Bosnian-born director Jasmila Zbanic, who survived the 1995 war in Sarajevo, wanted to make a film that exposes the bureaucracy of war from a female lens. Zbanic’s film, “Quo Vadis Aida,” centers on Aida, a translator for the United Nations in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Bosnian Serb army takes over the community, her family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the UN camp.
“My idea was that I wanted to show this film through a female perspective, and I wanted to show (Aida) as somebody who is between two worlds — she’s a UN interpreter, so she works for the UN and knows more than other Bosnians and other people in the camp but, on the other hand, she doesn’t have the same privilege like foreigners, like people who are in the UN,” Zbanic tells TheWrap’s Joe McGovern.
“I wanted to show this bureaucracy of war, which is rarely shown in the films. And for me, as a woman and maybe the person who survived a war, war has nothing attractive,” she added.
A lot of the brutality and atrocities in “Quo Vadis Aida” happen off-screen, and that is by design, as Zbanic and her cinematographer decided to portray the banality of the conflict instead of portraying gratuitous violence.
Wanting to convey the “banality of evil,” as political theorist Hannah Arendt put it, Zbanic and her camerawoman Christine Myer decided they would “always have perspective of human beings and always show what is not spectacular.” She elaborated, “We didn’t want to give pleasure of watching violence or the brutality. We think the audience is intelligent enough to imagine what is unimaginable.”
Modern audiences are accustomed to shaky handheld documentary camerawork when it comes to war films, but Zbanic and her cinematographer agreed against that approach “because the Bosnian war and many other wars after were shown on TV, they were present in people’s houses, and everybody saw some images of war.”
“We wanted to find the part of people’s brains and hearts which is not occupied by images that people already know,” Zbanic explained.
“So we didn’t want to have this usual kind of documentary camera to fake this. We really wanted to be real in emotions, but to (also) have very controlled images that are not usual for war films in order to, hopefully, get in people’s imagination, people’s brains, eyes and hearts through a different path. That was our decision from the beginning.”
“Quo Vadis Aida” was selected as Bosnia’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.
Watch the full interview with director Jasmila Zbanic in the video above.