There are no possible nuances in the Srebrenica genocide: during the Balkan war in July 1995, faced with the passivity of the Dutch UN peacekeepers, the troops of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic some 8,300 Muslim Bosnians – the vast majority, men – were murdered in a city that had been declared “safe” by the United Nations.
The excellent Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić, who had already approached the ethnic, political, territorial, social and family conflicts of the defunct Yugoslavia in the remarkable In the path (2010) and in the magnificent Grbavica (2006), has filmed the prolegomena, the methodology, the subterfuges and the consequences of the massacre in the shocking Quo Vadis, Aida?, focusing on the figure of a local translator at the service of the UN, and with Mladic, today in prison after a life sentence by the International Criminal Court, as a secondary but central role.
Now, if there are no possible nuances, how can you shoot such barbarism? How to represent the monster and its prey? Žbanić seems to have had it clear in all respects: no deaths on the screen, playing the off-field card (each murder, out of the camera’s eye and, therefore, out of the viewer’s eye). What nothing contributes, neither in information nor in emotion, is left in the margin. Also with a camera on his shoulder, a dizzying X-ray of pain, fear and anger, following almost at all times the female protagonist, a high school teacher converted into a translator, who meets some of her former students on the side of the murderers. So are civil wars: cruel and irrational. All this, with the indolence of the Dutch commanders and troops, naive blue with their crestfallen gaze, and, very relevant, with the laziness of superiors on the phone, who were not there to check what was looming, but who they did not even attend to what was by no means unimaginable.
The survival instinct, the impressive images of the crowds gathered by the closed gate of the UN camp, the strength of the camera and the spectacular work with the masses of interpreters, hundreds of faces perfectly chosen and guided not to look like extras from a film, but human beings a step away from the slaughterhouse, round off a formidable work, recent candidate for the Oscar for best international film. Although there is still more: a wonderful double epilogue; one on the material consequences at home, and another, years later, in a city school, halfway between reconciliation and impossible oblivion. And here, the nuances will have to be put by the viewer.