Film: In the Land of Blood and Honey
Cast includes: Zana Marjanovic (Snow), Goran Kostic (Taken), Rade Serbedzija (Batman Begins)
Writer/Director: Angelina Jolie (writing and directorial debut)
Genre: Historic-based drama (2011) Bosnian with English subtitles
The former Yugoslavia was a country where different ethnic groups used to live together in harmony… at least on the surface. In 1992, Ajla meets Danijel at a dance club, and when the band plays a song for lovers, Ajla and Danijel do indeed seem very much in love… even though Ajla is Muslim and Danijel is Serbian. That was before the country exploded into violence… Muslim against Serb… neighbor against neighbor. Four months later, Ajla, her sister and their neighbors are forced into the street and divided into groups… the men are shot, and the prettiest women are put on a bus. When the bus arrives at a Serbian military base, their coats and valuables are taken away. But that’s just the beginning… there’s so much more to lose.
When a Serbian soldier ask who can cook, women volunteer their skills, hoping to save their lives… “I’m a doctor.” “I can sew.” But the soldier demands, “Can you fuck?” And then he brutally rapes a woman in front of the others. When Ajla is grabbed next, she is unexpectedly rescued by someone she knows… Danijel. He is now an officer in the Serbian army. While Ajla is held prisoner, it’s Danijel who tries to protect her from the others… and eventually they become lovers. While Danijel serves the Serbian cause, he has misgivings. “They only pretend to be good people,” Danijel’s father tells him. But Ajla asks, “Are we so bad that we should be exterminated?” “You’re not,” Danijel answers. “Isn’t it murder?” Ajla challenges. Danijel tells her, “It’s very complicated.” Apparently the international community agrees with Danijel, because no one… not the UN, the Red Cross, the Americans or NATO… pays much attention to what’s happening until it becomes the worst ethnic cleansing in Europe since WWII. For 3 years, Bosnia is nothing short of hell on earth… for everyone.
This is a powerful film that gives us a taste of what it feels like to be caught in a brutal war with no way out. Can you trust anyone? Who will betray you? This is Angelina Jolie’s writing and directorial debut. But if you’re thinking she may have had preferential treatment because of her fame, you’re going to be very surprised. First films are rarely this ambitious or this well done. Shot on location with local actors, the story has Shakespearian resonance in the way it pulls us emotionally… first one way… than another… as we gradually lose all hope. The brutality is unrelenting… killing of men… raping, abuse and killing of women. Even though Angelina Jolie is known for her positions on social issues, this film doesn’t take sides… unless you consider showing us the madness of genocide to be taking sides. The personal stories we follow are complex and tragic. And that’s why it’s so compelling. It’s hard to look at millions of tragedies and think of them one at a time. This film stays in our minds… leaving us to wonder how we would survive if our whole world went mad.
4 popped kernels
A very powerful story about a war with no winners
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Mainstream limited release
Tempo: Zips right along
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Intense
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking