(USA, 127 min.)
Written and directed by Angelina Jolie
Starring: Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade Serbedzija.
Angelina Jolie can direct! The Oscar-winning actress makes a strong feature debut with In the Land of Blood and Honey. Jolie displays a keen sense of cinema in In the Land of Blood and Honey, and the film allows a fair, well-handled dramatization of Jolie’s political convictions.
In the Land of Blood and Honey portrays the atrocities of the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina of 1992-1995. It’s a conflict fueled by complex political roots, the origins of which stem back to longstanding intercultural conflicts. Jolie handles the politics of the situation fairly and objectively. Her characters voice their old grudges and preoccupations in clear natural arguments, thus granting viewers enough context to appreciate and understand the drama. Jolie succeeds in doing so without giving an essentialist portrait of the War. Nor does she fall victim to heavy-handed preaching or didacticism.
Jolie stages the politics via an ill-fated love story between a Bosniak Muslim and a Bosnian Serb. The former is Ajla (played by Zana Marjanovic); the latter is Danijel (Goran Kostic). Ajla and Danijel meet shortly before the War begins and they fall in love with no qualms of their differing heritages. Once the war begins, though, they are torn apart.
Ajla is rounded up with the other Muslim women and they are taken to a camp and raped by Serbian soldiers. Ajla survives, however, because Danijel happens to be the commanding officer at the camp. He watches over her and she takes shelter in his authority over his more brutish colleagues. In spite of all that is going on, their love reignites the best it can. They find themselves star-crossed lovers, although the Romeo & Juliet-ishness of their affair is embroiled in far more volatile politics.
Rather than dumb down the hardship of the Bosnian War, the love story makes it accessible. Jolie, moreover, hardly panders to sweet, syrupy Hollywood convention. In the Land of Blood and Honey is hard-hitting and visceral, and Jolie offers an ending that troubles the tale of happily-ever-after, but rings true to the conflict she depicts.
Jolie is also quite sensitive to the origins of her story. Although this is an American production, the drama plays out in subtitled Bosnian and Serbian, rather than English. The result is a film both compelling and provocative. Jolie is especially good in handling the violence in her film, and she alternates between explicit carnage and offscreen restraint.
As far as first features go, In the Land of Blood and Honey exceeds most. The actor-cum-director solicits some fine work from her actors, especially Marjanovic. Jolie also stages some spectacular action scenes and offers a genuinely engaging and unpredictable tale. As Vera Farmiga did with 2011’s Higher Ground, Jolie makes a most welcome entrance into the small field of artists who perform just as well behind the camera as they do in front.
In the Land of Blood and Honey is currently playing at the Cumberland 4 in Toronto.