IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY
By Gary Murray
Starring Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade Serbedzija, Vanesa Goldjo and Nikola Djuricko
Written and directed by Angelina Jolie
Running time 127 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Arguably, Angelina Jolie is the most famous actress on the planet. Almost since her debut, she is one of the most photographed faces to ever grace the Silver Screen. She is known for her stunning beauty and using her fame to champion causes. She can now add director/writer to her bio. Her film is In the Land of Blood and Honey.
The film takes place in Bosnia in the 1990’s. Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a young artist who has a date with a local policeman Danijel (Goran Kostic). As the two dance in a nightclub, a bomb rips through the building. Civil war is on between different ethnic groups, the Serbs and the Muslims. Danijel is a Serb and Ajla is a Muslim.
Very soon, the Serbs have taken over the city and round up all the Muslim people. A group of women are taken to a Serb base to wait on the soldiers and for nefarious means. We see the soldiers rape the Muslim women just to keep them in line. Ajla is taken to the base and when Danijel sees her, he begins to protect her. Danijel runs the men and his father is in charge of all of the troops.
Danijel makes Ajla his portrait painter and mistress. The two individuals start a love affair as the two armies commit horrible atrocities. It is the juxtaposition of these images that drives In the Land of Blood and Honey through some shocking paces and an even more horrible conclusion.
This is a brutal film to watch with murders and rapes as a part of the landscape. We see just how horrible man can be to his fellow man. The Serb soldiers take head shots at any Muslim who is anywhere. There are scenes of executions and brutalities unimaginable exposed by the lens of Angelina Jolie. She paints a very graphic and disturbing image of this war.
One of the things I found unusual was how quite the film was for a war movie. Usually in a film about conflict, we get all the explosions and rapid fire machine guns of battle. There are many passages of silence where the fighting is not shown in glorious over the top moments but in single sniper fires. It is a very different depiction of war that one has seldom seen on the screen.
The best reason to see In the Land of Blood and Honey is the performance of Zana Marjanovic as Ajla. While not a stunning beauty, one still cannot take ones eyes off her every move. She is a shocked presence, shocked by both the inhumanity of such a bloody war and the way she adapts to her surroundings. She is a captured creature who still can find time and inspiration to draw, even if it is on a wall.
The story is more of Danijel and the performance of Goran Kostic. Much like the male Nazi character in The Black Book (one of the best WWII films of the last few years), he is a conflicted soul. He does what he has to do as a soldier but does so with a heavy bit of remorse. He does love Ajla as a woman but hates her as a Muslim. This quandary drives him to a bit of madness, an emotion he cannot control.
This film is the kind of work one would expect from Angelina Jolie. It is strong and carries a very heavy single opinion. There are no degrees of gray in the world of In the Land of Blood and Honey and Jolie makes no apologies on which side her sympathies lie. She has an agenda with this film and pushes it without apology. She puts scenes of tenderness against scenes of horror but never flinches with the position of either. For a first time director/writer, she shows some talents and even more promise.
If I had to ‘quick pitch’ the film, I would call it a cross between Shindler’s List and Romeo and Juliet. It is a tragedy, very hard to take in, but with some winning performances and a solid first effort. It will captivate some and infuriate others but it never leaves an audience member without an opinion.