In the Land of Blood and Honey

3 Jan

Title: In the Land of Blood and Honey
Year: 2011
Director: Angelina Jolie
Writer: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Goran Kostic, Zana Marjanovic, Rade Serbedzija
MPAA Rating: R, war violence and atrocities including rape, sexuality, nudity and language
Runtime: 127 min
IMDb Rating: 5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Metacritic: 57

 

Angelina Jolie in her directing debut from a screenplay she wrote herself. A love story set with the Bosnian War as a backdrop, as two people, Daniel and Ajla, from different sides of a conflict that teared down through a region a couple of decades ago are involved in a really complicated kind of relationship. They knew each other before the war broke loose, they seemed to have a romantic future together, but now he is a soldier for the side of the Serbs and she is a captured Bosnian thrown into the camp he oversees. So their connection becomes increasingly complex, motives and loyalties being put into question by the very nature of their relationship. You could kind of think that the actress would fail to deliver with such intense material but, while In the Land of Blood and Honey isn’t a masterpiece of any kind, it’s certainly a pretty good film.

It’s an interesting premise the one we have here, about two acquaintances who become lovers just as they are forced to become enemies, and even though Ms. Jolie doesn’t bring anything new to the table as far as gritty war-tinged dramas go, she does shoes that she knows how to handle this stuff. She’s direct as far as setting in stone the terms of the war and what it meant for the people there; as soon as the movie begins, in 1992 just before the war started, we see Daniel and Ajla dancing in a club, flirting with each other just before a bomb detonates and a new reality sets in, as sides have to be taken. Ajla is put in a bus with other Muslim women, driven to a camp base, where women are asked if they have any abilities that could be useful, and where we see one of them being raped by a soldier in front of everyone else. Like I said, Ms. Jolie holds nothing as far as fiercely presenting to us the reality of the situation we’re thrown into.

This film is preoccupied with showing the truth about these women and men. And I say women first because we’ve seen plenty of other films about men killing other men, about men making decisions and politics to shape a war, but by showing the women here we get a new perspective of sorts, and it’s disturbing to see how rape was used as a kind of instrument of war by many. It’s obviously a complex way to tackle such a topic, to show it alongside Daniel and Ajla being reunited at camp, where he saves her from suffering the same fate as the woman we just saw being raped. It’s pretty much always hard to see the intentions behind Daniel’s actions; he saves her, that’s true, but as he takes her as his lover it’s not as though he’s also saving her from the other harsh realities thrown upon women who were prisoners of war.

Of course Angelina Jolie is well-known and celebrated for her humanitarian efforts, so there’s a kind of feel as though this movie is an extension of that, like she wants to convert you to her cause, and those bits were just off for me, the parts in which it seemed like an instructional video and the dialogue that seemed like it would be better as some kind of speech or text shown on-screen in a UN video. Those moments, in which she wants to denounce America for turning a blind eye on these matters, or in which characters stray from their required dialogue to also give us some kind of history lesson and act as some kind of voice for Ms. Jolie in her war against indifference take away from the film because they take you out of the story and get your attention off the compelling human story it should be busier telling.

As a screenwriter, then, Angelina Jolie doesn’t really shine. She wants to say too many things, she wants her voice to be heard just as loudly, or louder than her characters, and the result is a rather scattered piece that’s all the messier when you consider the premise alone came with some really complex themes embedded in it. As a director, however, she balances it all out, delivering a really nice sense of pace and effectively holding our attention when she’s not delivering some sort of humanitarian mission statement, and getting really fine performances from Goran Kostic and Zana Marjanovic as Daniel and Ajla, showing us what made them tick, their hate for each other’s causes and the power of desire, a sexual tension trying to make invisible the notorious feud that goes on beneath. She shows a really nice director’s touch in showing us their relationship, and the complications that arise from it, the crazy situation from which it stems being also reflected in the craziness going on in the world around them. It’s not a perfect debut, but it shows some gut, focussing on women, who in most war movies are mostly just an afterthought, a small supporting character or a loving/grieving wife, and with a better screenplay this film could have been something special.

Grade: B

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