In the Land of Blood and Honey is actress Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut. She also wrote the script and produced the film. She is not in the film. However, given that her name is attached to the film, I can see people going to see it just because of her. The good thing about that is this film is not a weak, bad film as some actor/directors may be guilty of making. If you know even the slightest about Angelina Jolie, you probably know that she is a humanitarian who has traveled the world for human rights. It is fitting that her directorial debut deals with the atrocities committed on the Muslim people during the Bosnian War.
In the Land of Blood and Honey takes place from 1992 to 1995 from the beginning of the Bosnian War until towards the end of it. The film has two main characters, Ajla, a Muslim or Bosniak woman, and Danijel, a Bosnian Serb. They start to date right before the war begins. Ajla is taken to one of the Serbian outposts along with many other women. It is there that Danijel sees Ajla again. Danijel is a commander in the Serbian Army and his father is the general. Danijel tries to protect Ajla as much as he can, claiming that she is his property. This prevents other soldiers from raping her. Danijel finds Ajla again later on in the war, and she becomes his painter, locked away in a room by herself. She is his property again. He tries to keep her safe, but the relationship between them is forbidden because of their backgrounds. The Serbs are trying to wipe out all Muslims, and yet here is this commander in a relationship with one.
The Bosnian War was about ethnic cleansing, and this film makes it perfectly clear. As a young American at the time of this war, I really did not know much about the reason the war started. I heard about the mass graves and the war criminals. I think Americans were sheltered from the war. This film makes it perfectly clear about what kind of atrocities occurred during this war. It is disturbingly similar to the Nazis’ elimination of the Jews during World War II. The Bosnian War was just on a smaller scale, but nonetheless horrific.
This film is not easy to watch. Realistic rape scenes, killing babies, executions of people walking down the street, and mass executions of groups of people are all things you will see in the film. It comes off very real, and very necessary to see what happened during this war. The violence is not toned down or done out of sight of the camera. It is all very much in your face. Obviously, I would not recommend any children see this film because of the graphic violence and situations.
I have to contemplate the love story between Ajla and Danijel in this film. I do not mind that the love story is there, but I do not understand how Angelina Jolie wants us to view it. I did not buy that there is any real love or passion between the couple. Both had their reasons for being in the relationship. Danijel gets love, sex, and comfort from it. Ajla gets protection. If she does not do what Danijel asks, she will die. I just wonder if Jolie wants the audience to feel that there is real love between the two characters or if it is more of what I thought the relationship is about. If we are supposed to feel the love, it does not work. I never thought that if Danijel dies, Ajla will be upset. On the other hand, I could very much see Danijel being upset if Ajla were to die.
Considering Angelina Jolie wrote the script in English, and then the actors translated it themselves, the film feels very authentic. It does not feel like a Hollywood version of the Bosnian War. All of the actors feel very believable in their performances. Zana Marjanovic plays Ajla, and I thought she is absolutely fantastic. I thought several times during the film that she was very beautiful, even though she is in this backdrop of a horrific war. Goran Kostic plays Danijel well. I only wish he seemed to carry a bit more gruffness and authority, seeing as he is the General’s son.
The ending is very abrupt and almost too simple for the complications that are built up throughout the entire film. I do not know if the general audiences that will see this film are going to like the ending.
In the Land of Blood and Honey tries to stay true to what happened in the war, and it should be applauded for that. It is not sugar-coated, and it is not made strictly for an American audience. Angelina Jolie made a necessary film about a subject others may shy away from. My only issue with the film is the love story and the believability of it. It is hard to criticize the film for this one issue when I do not know Jolie’s purpose for it. While it is a critical part of the film, I would not deter anyone from seeing this great film because of my qualms about the love story. It is, however, the only reason this film is not getting a 5 out of 5.
I give In the Land of Blood and Honey 4 “self portraits” out of 5.