Srebrenica: just the name still stops you in your tracks. Director Jasmila Zbanic’s wrenching Quo Vadis, Aida? deals with the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 men and boys always evoked by mention of the Bosnian mountain town. Yet scarcely a moment of violence is seen. The film takes place in the hours before the massacre, bar a happy flashback and a brief, breathtaking coda. In the first seconds of the running time, summer sun dapples the camera.
Then comes a tank. Serbian militias appear set to invade the Muslim enclave, but the colonel of the UN peacekeeping operation is serene. Your people are safe, he tells the mayor. His reassurance is translated by a local schoolteacher, Aida, played by the lucid Jasna Djuricic.
His words are made a mockery. As gunmen film propaganda videos in the town, thousands of refugees seek safety in the UN compound, a disused battery factory overseen by smooth-faced Dutch soldiers in T-shirts. Soon the militias are there too, offering the hungry bread and Toblerones. Alone among the townspeople, Aida sees exactly what is coming. Zbanic is not only making a memorial; she asks painful, vital questions. Could Aida do more than try to save her own husband and sons? Can rules-based order ever undo atavism? And in the murderous rage visited by neighbour on neighbour, what lesson for us all still lies in Srebrenica?
On Curzon Home Cinema in the UK from January 22