Quo vadis, Aida? (2020)
Approved. I'm surprised that the MPAA ain't got time for these. Actually, what I think actually happens is that a film distributor has to pay the MPAA to rate their film, so who has time for that? Anyway, the content matter is pretty troubling, especially for those who ache for the plight of the refugee. While much of the violence doesn't happen on screen, the film deals with genocide and the fallout that occurs with that genocide. There is a scene of mass extermination. It's pretty bleak.
DIRECTOR: Jasmila Zbanic
I'm so grateful that the foreign language nominees were released in a way that was accessible to the public. Yeah, I wish that I got them a while earlier. But now I'm just being ungrateful. It's such an experience seeing art from other countries. The Western world has important stories to tell and I'm always fascinated about what we have to say. But the rest of the world has a message that can be so personal. For many Americans, the Bosnian / Serbian conflicts seem almost the thing of fiction. We have a hard time really visualizing the tension of real world disasters and atrocities. Movies like Quo vadis, Aida? both serve to remind me of my blessings and to break my heart over my comfort at home.
My wife commented on the fact that this is a fairly simple story. She's right. I can't even fight that. The narrative of Quo vadis, Aida? is so straightforward that it offers not even a hint of deception. The entire movie is an attempt to escape the inevitable ending of the film. We are watching how dramatic irony creates suspense for the length of a 100 minute film. We should know about the Serbian genocide. Even if we don't know the particulars of the genocide, Zbanic starts the film off with this shot of refugees piled in, shoulder to shoulder, trying to get into a U.N. camp. We see the inside of this building and the hopelessness of it all. Things never look good or optimistic. But that puts us in the shoes of the titular Aida, who is reading the writing on the wall. She knows that this whole thing has been turned pear-shaped. Yet she still fights for the small victories.
One of the key concepts in To Kill a Mockingbird (a movie that I might need to rewatch pretty soon) is the notion that we have to fight for battles we know that we're going to lose. With the case of Atticus Finch, his battle is altruistic. The right thing to do is to fight for Tom Robinson. But the easy thing to do is to walk away. Aida isn't Atticus Finch. Aida is fighting a battle of bureaucracy. She sees this solution that seems fairly simple. She is employed by the U.N. She is safe from whatever oncoming storm is coming after her. She knows that it would simply take a blind eye to allow her family into a place of safety as well. But instead of just fighting a bloodthirsty dictator who wants to kill her people, she has to fight against a spineless organization filled with weak-willed individuals. That's the most frustrating part of the whole a story. After all, dictators gotta dictate. But the point of the U.N. peacekeepers is to keep as many people alive as humanly possible. They are the voice of the people who have no power behind them. They are at their lowest place, facing extinction all so some general can feel like a big man.
So when we realize that the people that we should consider allies are almost greater enemies than the actual enemies, something really resonates. No one really expects Aida to fight the general with words or actions. She can't use her gift of speech on this guy or his cronies. But the fact that the film is about her losing her most powerful gift to allies is what is crushing. She should be able to change someone's mind in the U.N. camp. Instead, she's constantly butting her head up against a wall with reasonable requests. And that's the greater message of the story. Yes, this movie is fundamentally about remembering those who were slaughtered just because they lived in a place that someone didn't want them to live. I can't deny that is the foundational purpose of the storytellers. But Aida being a woman is also part of the story. The fact that she is a woman who primarily deals in communication and sees the big picture is the role of the story.
It is the men who are slaughtered. The traditional strong male archetype is inverted. The men in this movie all seem impotent. The dictator seems evil for evil's sake. He's obsessed with his own media coverage of the events. His soldiers are the ones who really do all of the legwork, leaving him in a place of comfort. Even the soldiers do their murdering from a place of safety and invisibility. The U.N. representatives are almost bullied by this general. The lead representative is almost obsessed with being liked and making sure that everyone is happy at the expense of the refugees and Aida's family. Even Aida's husband questions his role in the greater tapestry that Aida sees. He second-guesses her because he sees himself as male. It is Aida, a woman, who understands the dangers of words. Her hesitancy to translate at times shows that she knows more than the people around her. She understands the power and value of these words and it is telling that she is nervous to say those words aloud. When her male family members are stuck outside the camp. she uses her words to offer them a modicum of safety.
But it is when she gains too much control over the situation, the male characters do anything that they can to strip her of that power. Instead of taking the smallest efforts to help her, they become obsessed with control. I think that's why the guard ousts the man dressed as a woman who is trying to escape. They all turn on him, but that was a moment where the guard felt a moment of power in a powerless situation. The generals all ignore Aida because they want to put up a front for power. But it all comes down to words. For Aida, her words are one-to-one with action. She is there to deliver messages of actual change. When she says something, she intends for success. The generals, however, have words that ultimately lead to nothing. They are almost putting on a play of strategy. Because at one point, everyone knows everything is lost. The lie that the buses are there to help the refugee becomes a straight up farce, especially considering that the buses are segregated by gender. So the notion that the U.N. can't be bothered with Aida isn't for a good last-ditch effort. Instead, it is about maintaining the façade.
I loved this movie, but it crushed me. I might be alone on this one. But sometimes a movie is more about character and suspense than it is about story. My wife is right: there was almost no story in this one But in terms of heightening a single emotion, Quo vadis, Aida? did exactly what it was supposed to do for me. I was rapt with attention. That specter of doom over the horizon terrified me and it broke my heart. This was a powerful film.
Leave a Reply.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.