“In the Land of Blood and Honey,” written and directed by Angelina Jolie.
I liked this intense film about the war in Bosnia. But I wasn’t sure if Angelina Jolie intended her directorial debut film to be a story about love and betrayal or a depiction of the horrors wreaked against one’s own people. In this three-and-a-half-year civil war of the 1990s, soldiers killed people they had been classmates with; it tore families apart, and at least 100,000 were killed and two million displaced.
Jolie, involved in humanitarian work around the world, has said that she felt driven to make a film about the Bosnian war because she knew so little about it at the time (she was 17) and felt guilty because no one seemed to want to do anything. It was the worst European conflict since World War II.
“Blood and Honey,” was cut from over four hours to two, which might explain some holes in the script. It opens in 1992 on a scene of people living ordinary lives. Muslim sisters Lejla (Vanessa Glodjic), a single mother of an infant, and Ajla (Zana Marjovich), an artist, share an apartment.
Ajla is involved with Danijel (Goran Kostic), a wiry, blond Serbian army captain. While dancing at a club, it is hit by an explosion. Danijel, unharmed, takes charge, relieved that Ajla had survived.
The film jumps ahead four months. Heavily armed Serbian soldiers patrol the neighborhoods, ordering people out of buildings. Ajla is shocked to see Danijel, who doesn’t notice her, among the soldiers. His father, General Nebojsa (played by Rade Serbedzija), orders him to “cleanse the area, Danijel. Make me a proud father!”
Ajla and other women are herded onto buses and driven to an abandoned school, where Serbian soldiers treat them as both sexual and domestic slaves. Women are randomly raped; they feel doomed.
The women, including Lejla, left in the apartment building are terrified the soldiers will return; she worries about her baby and that her sister could be dead. Lejla returns from a furtive run to a bombed-out pharmacy for supplies, and is horrified to find her baby has met a tragic end. In her absence, the military had returned. She joins a resistance group holed up in a ruin.
Danijel protects Ajla. He confesses that he hates the “war,” cautioning her that “people don’t appear to be who they truly are.” At times, he comes across as the voice of conscience. She makes an attempt to escape but is caught and beaten. What I found strange is that Ajla doesn’t seem concerned about her sister or the baby. Perhaps Jolie directed Marjovich to appear numbed by it all.
Danijel and Ajla argue about his killing of her people. She shouts, “I don’t have to sleep with their murderer!” He asks if she believes her people are not murderers, too: “That you are clean?”
In one scene, General Nebosja bursts in on Ajla; berating her about his mother’s working hard so Muslim women could wear fine clothes. She tells him she believes there’s no difference between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims; for this, he rapes her.
Fifteen years after the war, the people of Bosnia-Herzogovina, of course, still remember. Jolie has said that it was difficult asking Bosnian and Serbian actors to relive it; some were extremely emotional. Yet because of their experience, they made the film real. She admits that they helped her write and direct it.
This is not exactly a blatant antiwar film. Nor does it get to the roots of the the “Great Serbia” ideology, which trod upon the rights of other nationalities in the former Yugoslavia. The conflict flared up over the years, and was spurred on by the Stalinist bureaucracy.
Still, the film depicts the stupidity of war and how, in order to attain their ends, rulers constantly resort to whipping up national, religious, and misogynous prejudices—no matter how irrational they might be. Similarly, the U.S. and NATO are now raising a hysterical cry against Iran, which they have set their sights upon for the next war.
> The article above was written by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith, and first appeared in the January 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.