Jasna Đuričić, Europe’s Best Actress

Film Diva Brings Glory To The Balkans

With an awareness of her splendid talent, she always wanted more and succeeded in achieving that: Jasna Đuričić, alongside a bunch of local and regional awards, finally received the one she’d long desired: the European one.

The European Film Academy (EFA) proclaimed Jasna Đuričić the best European actress in a leading role for her work in the film Quo vadis Aida, which was directed by Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić, who also wrote the screenplay. Jasna had a feeling that she would receive this award… Female intuition. She already got that feeling last year, during the film’s world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Known as a talented theatre actress who has given her own “tone” to each role she’s played, audiences regularly reward her with frenetic applause. It was only in her more mature years that she tried her hand as a film actress, and she also proved successful in that endeavour. She is also beloved by her students as a professor of acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Novi Sad. Her role of Aida, which resulted in her receiving recognition at the European level, prompted various reactions: from sincere congratulations and enthusiasm, to condemnation for her having accepted to star in a film that “represents Serbs as a genocidal nation”.

The fact that an actress from Serbia has been crowned the best in Europe for the first time ever hasn’t received the attention it deserves in our country.

Not in my wildest dreams did I think that something like this could happen. I didn’t receive a congratulatory message from even a single representative of culture and art. Not even from the Ministry of Culture.

Do you concur with the view that powerful political party figures, but also many ordinary citizens, believe this film serves the function of politics and not art, as should be the case?

I think it’s not a good thing that we’re not bothered about the suffering of Muslims. We have this constant vying for numbers in victims, whose suffering is worse. Everyone sees their own as the worst and that’s fine, but victims are victims. We cannot observe ourselves, our people, through the prism of the juncture we’re living through now. I’m sure this film will be reinterpreted at some point.

Despite the “attacks”, you haven’t hidden your elation, joy, even pride that you – a Balkan actress and a champion of Serbian acting – received this exceptional EFA award?

I’m absolutely overjoyed, despite everything that’s been happening around the film. I’m aware that this award is very significant for Serbia. It poses a question about everything that Serbia is. There are different Serbias within Serbia. Many ordinary people contact me, and continue to contact me, expressing gratefulness and a deep sense of pride.

They experience this award as being their own. They are happy because this is about an acknowledgement that crossed the borders of the Balkans. Of course, Serbia is also Europe, though they don’t usually accept us as full citizens.

You’ve said that the greatness of this film also lies in the fact that it has achieved universality?

This film is universal. Everyone can understand it, and not only us. And when audience around the world see it, they understand everything, because it is a story about humanity, while here it’s boiled down to whether or not it’s true; whether Srebrenica happened or not, what they did to us, what Naser Orić did. Of course, I know what he did. Films will certainly also be made about them. But that has nothing to do with our film. Our film is very understandable to everyone on the planet.

The topic of Srebrenica, which the film addresses, is not yet over and done with. Did you consider that when accepting the role of Aida, or was it purely an acting challenge?

It was an acting challenge first and foremost. When I read the wonderfully written script for this film, I realised that I’d been offered a wonderful and noble role. And I couldn’t pass on something like that. I was ready for the film and my role to be manipulated, but that didn’t interest me. And it still doesn’t interest me now.

We have this constant vying for numbers in victims, whose suffering is worse. Everyone sees their own as the worst and that’s fine, but victims are victims. We cannot observe ourselves, our people, through the prism of the juncture we’re living through now. I’m sure this film will be reinterpreted at some point

How do you respond to negative comments about your role and the film itself?

I was initially bothered by everything, it struck a nerve, but no longer!!! It’s disgraceful that people who haven’t even seen the film characterise it as being propaganda against the Serbian people!? I no longer attach importance to that. I know that, in contrast to them, many Serbian citizens, primarily my colleagues, saw my award as encouragement confirming the value of speaking the truth.

Yes, but many consider it absurd that the film’s producers deliberately chose Serbian actors to perform in a film story about “genocidal” Serbs?

That’s said by those who haven’t seen the film. Jasmila Žbanić, a director who I’ve known for a long time, offered me the role of Aida as I’m an actress who values and respects her work. Many people have seen the film and rate it as excellent. Objectively. This fact is ignored by those who think the opposite. They ignore the need for a film to exist that addresses real events, and not imaginary ones. There’s no accusation against any one nation in the story of this film. The criminals have their own names and surnames.

You are criticised along with the suggestion that it was actually the “criminal” view of Serbs that was awarded, and not the film as an artistic achievement?

I’m a professional actress and don’t serve anything other than art. For me, people are people, regardless of their nationality and religious affiliation. Human destiny and human suffering are important to me. Such opinions, it seems to me, have emerged out of impotence. The film is simply very good and Europe has rewarded it.

Who is Aida to you?

Aida is a mother, a woman whose courage and fight for her family are primordial and have nothing to do with religion and the nation to which she belongs. She had the misfortune of experiencing a fratricidal war, of her sons being in their formative years at that very moment, of them ending up in Serbian captivity in Srebrenica alongside their father. As a former professor who’d worked as a translator for a Dutch UN battalion in Potočari during those war years, she had the mistaken believe that she was in a privileged position and that, thanks to that position, she would be able to save her family. The UN was the first to betray her. For me, the fact that she returned to her hometown after everything that happened is the embodiment of dignity, heroism.

Have such reactions and the ignoring of your great success cast a shadow over it?

No, they haven’t. This is continuing. It impacted me at the beginning, but later it didn’t. I realised that this is our reality and I’ve learnt to deal with it. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s really good that everything is the way it is. I’m an optimist and I know that all of this will change.

How does this award differ from the others that you’ve received?

The difference is that this is the greatest film award that’s awarded by my fellow actors, directors and producers across the whole of Europe. Our membership in the European Film Academy is small, because we are small European countries. I’m proud because, this time around, we were much better than all competing films.

You are our youngest winner of the Ring of Dobrica [Dobričin prsten] Award. You have won all awards in Serbia… But you still consider this European award as being the most important?

I have all of this country’s awards, in both theatre and film, but this one is still the most important. This film is different, because everyone can see it, except here in our country. I’m proud of all my awards: of the Dobričin prsten, which is the most important lifetime achievement award for work in the theatre’ of the Žanka Stokić Award, which is named after the heroine of pre-war theatre who fell victim to the communist regime. It is difficult to list all the dear and great acknowledgements I’ve received.

How did your husband Boris Isaković, himself a famous actor, react to all the events surrounding the film?

Our reactions are similar. We have always thought the same. We replenish one another…

By Zorica Todorović Mirković, Foto: Nebojša Babić

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