The film by Bosnian Jasmila Žbanić, The Voice of Aida is set in July 1995, just after the fall of Srebrenica. Here are the reflections that this powerful film inspired by the author of “Srebrenica, an announced genocide” (Flammarion, 2005), Sylvie Matton.
After being presented at the Venice Film Festival 2020 and selected in the list of foreign films competing for the Oscars in April 2021, the Bosnian film by Jasmila Žbanić, The Voice of Aida,Since September 22, 2021, the film has been shown on French screens.
Under Aïda’s gaze, Stabat Mater desperate, ready to do anything to save her husband and her two sons from an announced death, the historic action takes place in 48 hours, between July 11, 1995, the day of the fall of the Srebrenica enclave under the final assault forces of the Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, and the forced departure of the population in the deportation buses or to an execution site – school, stadium, field … future mass graves, the first massacre takes place under Žbanić’s camera: a thousand men are executed at the Kalashnikov in a nearby agricultural shed. The Potocari Memorial is 6 km from Srebrenica, and contains the names of the 8,375 Bosnians killed in six days.
Ratko Malic, a Bosnian Serb general, was sent to life imprisonment on appeal on June 8th, 2021 for genocide crimes against humanity, violation of laws or customs war. He arrived in the small town as a contemptuous conqueror and fiercely vulgar as he likes to show himself. This day was filmed for his glory and posterity, but also to record evidence for future The Hague trials. While the Mladic actor’s features are not similar to those of the Bosnian Serb commander, the powerful acting of Mladic is a mirror of his barbaric brutality & murderous will. This chills the blood and stuns minds. Other characters in the hybrid fiction are more important than the spectators.
Mladic was joined by the UN base at Potocari in the middle of the afternoon. It consists of large buildings and hangars from a disused plant, where the “security zones” have been rotating for over two years. »UN, the battalions of peacekeepers, including the Dutchbat Dutch?Since the spring 1995. The enclave’s population fled in panic, and they took refuge under the scorching sun. Even if the immense spaces of the hangars could accommodate this human tide, the rations of the UNO are counted and the Bosnian-Serbian general terrorizes the Dutch “peacekeepers”; also, in front of the influx of this bloodless and terrified humanity, after the entry of the first 4,000 people, the order is quickly given to close the fence which delimits the enclosure of the base and to abandon 25,000 souls under the stars. It was an atrocious act for all.
Testimony to this tragedy, Jasmila Žbanić’s film is a solid reconstruction of reincarnated historical scenes, mixed with an intimate fiction. It is difficult to tell, show and share History while also telling a story within the many stories that feed it. When Aida, a fictional character, is begging the Dutch major Franken to get down on his knees, we can only be sensitive and attentive to the drama. She should not have given her husband and children to Mladic’s murderers, but she should allow them to remain in the buildings. The terror felt by this woman is more than just that of her mother. It is also felt in a wider context than Aida’s personal drama. This is where the pain of those who have been sacrificed is also being tested. True, Aida’s family can be saved. This would be an exception to the drama. No salvation for all. In order to attempt the impossible, Aïda can only ignore her companions in misfortune, until she no longer sees them, until she forgot them. We are also sensitive to the drama that is created by the thousands of human sacrifices. This causes us to deprive Aida from her empathic outbursts.
In 1995’s reality, the microcosm of humanity died in a state of terror. Women give birth to the dead, just like in 1995. Facing the camera of his nephew (then that of Žbanić), Mladic promises the dazed crowd a safe and secure departure soon. He says, “Women first, children last” and confirms to the world his true intentions. This was admitted ten years later by Alain Juppé, then French Prime Minister: “We knew that the Serbs would not take prisoners”.
Mladic asks a young boy in crowd: “How old?” », While the child’s response could immediately condemn him. One of the most disturbing scenes is the reconstruction of negotiations around a table by Mladic, in the presence three refugees and the Dutch general Karremans. The paralyzed Bosnians’ silences are as powerful as those of the bloodthirsty soldier. Their looks are meant to be comforting. Subtly filmed, they reveal the terror that slowly grips them. They translate the lies of the bloodthirsty general to our faces like many death sentences.
The international community continues to make sacrifices with violent separations of women and men in front of the crime busses, chartered by Mladic for a few more days with the consent of Western leaders. Women, children, and parents will never again see one another.
This film shows the cruelty of the Genocidaires and the cowardice displayed by the Dutchbat. His officials, General Karremans (his deputy when Karremans is locked up for 36 hours of dysentery at the base’s locked toilets) were terrified and will follow Mladic’s orders. Their goal is to save themselves and their battalion’s skins, as well as many hostages. Their UN superiors’ recent directives were ignored, forgetting the main objective of their mission which is to save the population. On the contrary, the Dutch will participate in the “sorting” of human beings. Žbanić films his extras under blue helmets unrolling the site tapes to create corridors, a necessary passage for inspection and separation before leaving for the slaughterhouse. The men’s fate is revealed just as the buses leave the bus station. The Dutch soldiers command the condemned to take small steps and turn their heads, in an attempt to seize a knife or any other blunt object. Subject to orders, some collaborate with the Serbs to the point of criminal zeal: in the crush near the deportation buses, in the chaos of a herd sent to death, a Dutch soldier denounces the teenager who, hanging on the arm of her mother quickly disguised herself with a feminine kerchief tied under her chin: “It’s a boy!”. The mother yells at the teenager to take him away.
But Jasmila Žbanić’s camera remains modest. The seasoned director has chosen to mitigate the cruelty and inhumanity of the executioners, probably with the aim of making her fictional reproduction more credible: showing or even imagining too many atrocities, however proven in reality, can establish a doubt: we will not see the women raped and then killed in the enclosure of the base, the newborn baby slaughtered in front of the crowd in his mother’s arms, nor the dozen men executed at close range or with a knife behind a small white building; in July 1995, the film of the photos of these corpses taken by a blue helmet, an exhibit, will be destroyed, “accidentally exposed to the light” in a laboratory in Zagreb, the first stage of the Dutchbat after its exfiltration from the enclave.
In the same way Žbanić watered down the pleutrerie of General Karremans and Major Franken. She treats them with kindness and concedes to their feelings of indignation, hoping to make them more human and less psychopathic. They have never expressed.
Hasan Nuhanovic, a writer and human rights activist, has been suing Karremans, Franken for references to cowardice, indignity, and their actions. Nuhanovic, the first person to portray Aida as a survivor of Srebrenica after being able stay at the UN base as an interpreter. The remains of his parents, and younger brother, who were killed in battle by General Karremans, and Major Franken at the base, were later found and buried at the Potocari Cemetery. His book Unter UN FlagThis English-language publication is the most exact and factual testimony to what it was like living in the besieged area for three years until the final disaster.