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Saturday, January 7, 2012
In The Land Of Blood And Honey
In Bosnia, The Art Of Love And The Burden Of War
Zana Marjanović as Ajla and Goran Kostić as Danijel in "In The Land Of Blood And
Honey", written and directed by Angelina Jolie.
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
January 7, 2012
One of the most striking things about
Angelina Jolie's powerful Bosnia war drama "In
The Land Of Blood And Honey" are the two beautiful faces of Ajla (Zana
Marjanović) and Danijel (Goran Kostić), luminous amidst the horrors of the
conflict that ravaged Bosnia-Herzegovina and Yugoslavia. Their faces are
lit up with the language, feeling and look of love. The faces will become
more tense, strained and indelible by film's end. ("In The Land Of Blood
And Honey" expanded its late December Academy Award consideration theatrical
release beyond New York City and Los Angeles to several additional U.S. cities
As the film's title suggests, love is blissful but bittersweet, and Ms. Jolie
sets her film (which she also wrote) against the bloody backdrop of the early
1990s conflict in the Balkans between Serbs and Croats, one which saw upwards of
50,000 women raped and 100,000 lives lost. Two million people were
uprooted from their homes by force. Prior to the war Serbs, Croats and
Muslims married each other without much fanfare or turmoil. Near the
film's start Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim, and Danijel, a Bosnian Serb, dance and are
rudely interrupted. Soon their relationship grows strained, and as the
Serb-initiated war breaks out against Muslims, so does the tension between Ajla
Danijel serves as the captain of his Serb soldier unit, who rape and murder with
impunity. His father Nebosja (Rade Šerbedžija), a Serb General, bemoans
the lack of courage of some of his people while saluting the past, where things,
he declares, are a lot tougher than now. Danijel safeguards Ajla against
his more zealous and vicious soldiers but the terrain that holds them together
For years Ms. Jolie, a humanitarian, has passionately advocated on behalf of
women raped and families traumatized and displaced during the Bosnian War, and
has long believed that their stories and justice against the perpetrators of the
war crimes committed against them needs to be told and effectuated. In
this, her debut feature film directing effort, Ms. Jolie's admirable passion is
conveyed in some scenes but overall "In The Land Of Blood And Honey" lacks
narrative punch and looks familiar with flat, often rhetorical dialogue.
"In The Land Of Blood And Honey" can be best described as a Rorschach ink blot.
What I saw was both murky and clear, but in the end, shattering and empty.
The more you look, the less you see -- just like
the movie's poster, which after more than a
dozen looks I finally detected what I was seeing. Ms. Jolie's film leaves
most everybody on both sides of the Bosnian conflict on a cardboard level, save
for the film's chief protagonists. Mr. Kostić is good as the unraveling
Danijel, a man who knows the war is wrong but his reality is rooted in tradition
and the warped perspective war brings. "In The Land Of Blood And Honey"
has the kind of tense atmosphere reminiscent of "Schindler's List", but without
that film's unrelenting menace.
This grim, intense film is a remarkably lukewarm exercise despite sudden,
jolting, terrifying moments that leave you gasping. At a point however,
"In The Land Of Blood And Honey" illuminates little beyond its shocking,
harrowing spectacle. Aside from one or two instances we never, on a
subjective level at least, get an appreciable sense of the internal terror Ajla
feels on a daily basis during the conflict. The story we see is more an
objective one about war and its casualties than about a woman torn by love and
circumstance. Ms. Jolie herself seems torn between which story to make a
priority. Nevertheless, one cannot bemoan any lack of authenticity or
commitment from the director: Ms. Jolie clearly wants our attention, and she
certainly gets it. War is painful, and there are no heroes or winners.
This message, however, is hammered home at the expense of almost everything
else, including a strong underlying story between Ajla and Danijel.
as Danijel and Zana Marjanović as Ajla in "In The Land Of Blood And Honey",
written and directed by Angelina Jolie.
Even with its undeniable, hard-hitting realism, "In The Land Of Blood And Honey"
is strangely surface in its examination of the dilemmas facing key characters,
and the drama surrounding them isn't consistently strong. Relationships
are briefly outlined; that of father and son; of sister and sister; of comrade
and comrade, etc., but these are developed only as far as outrage and violent
acts will take them. There's little use for the interactions or
relationship constructs after blood has marred them. Clichés often take
hold, including in the film's penultimate scene, one which is both obvious and
unnecessary. The story shifts to an offending character where I wasn't
sure that it should have, especially for the sake of narrative consistency.
I inevitably asked myself, "whose story am I watching?" Alja's?
Danijel's? Bosnia's? That of the women who are raped, tortured and
humiliated? The answer isn't easy to come by.
A recent film that is constantly stark and unsentimental and takes place in
Bosnia in the same early 1990s time period is Larysa Kondracki's debut-directed
Whistleblower" (2011), based on the true story of a UN peacekeeper
who has to investigate allegations of UN peacekeeper rape, murder and,
prostitution of Serbian women refugees of the Bosnian conflict. It's a
stronger film about similar issues and circumstances. I wish Ms. Jolie had
spent even more time on her script and fleshed out the characters more, and the
dramatic arcs they would have been better served by.
I believe Ms. Jolie could have made the film infinitely more disturbing than it
is -- not as a gratuitous act but as a potent reminder that people of
Bosnia-Herzegovina and surrounding areas are still suffering from this war, 20
years later. (To be fair, the film's end credits remind us to a large
extent.) Still, I wish "In The Land Of Blood And Honey" did more, and
conveyed more of the horrors. Many in America, and much of the world for
that matter, have forgotten them. I remember watching some extremely
graphic footage on CNN back in 1994, during the heart of this awful conflict.
I recoiled and cringed as I heard the stories being told about the brutalities
against women and families torn asunder.
I blasphemed once during Ms. Jolie's film but feel guilty for not doing so more
Sometimes "In The Land Of Blood And Honey" plays like a documentary, other times
it just plays. One of the great things about the film though, is Gabriel
Yared's wonderfully touching and emotive score, and one of the numbers, "The
Loss", is of one-of-a-kind brilliance (even if part of it evokes composer
Maurice Jarre's work.) "The Loss" articulates a lot more than the film
A turgid and uneven drama despite good work from Ms. Marjanović (who mildly
resembles Charlotte Gainsbourg), Ms. Jolie's cinematic artistry and acumen is
strongest when choreographing love scenes in an elegant, tender and celestial
manner (shot by Dean Semler), but not always when filming sudden violence later
on, with repetitive forays of explosions into the camera. What is on the
screen is a conventional war drama with episodes of lovemaking as interludes.
The dramatic center of the film, the love story, is positioned for a critical
denouement that arrives unexpectedly, and like much of the occasionally stirring
episodes, all too suddenly.
Populated by a cast of highly talented Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Muslim actors,
Ms. Jolie gets the best work from them. They definitely don't disappoint,
even if this otherwise hollow drama does.
Ms. Marjanović was born in Sarajevo in 1983 about ten years before the Bosnian
war. As I watched her I mouthed the words, "she's so beautiful." As Ajla,
an artist, she is mournful, brave and wracked with the sense of foreboding and
longing that bonds her to Danijel. Ms. Jolie ties her film to art and
artful flourishes and the beautiful moments between Alja and Daniel early on are
marvelous. Art makes us remember, makes us capture the moments in life,
time or in the abstract, moments that stir us to recognition, reaction,
understanding, and more. In one scene Ajla explores an art gallery.
Some familiar faces are on display, and there's beauty on many of the canvasses
we see. When war intervenes however, such canvasses can be pathetically
spare and devastating. Throughout, Ms. Jolie never lets us forget that.
With: Vanesa Glodio, Nikola Djurićko, Branko Djurić, Fedja Stukan, Alma Terzić,
Jelena Jovanova, Ermin Bravo, Boris Ler, Jasna Orlena Bery, Aleksandar Djurica,
"In The Land Of Blood And Honey" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association
Of America for war violence and atrocities including rape, sexuality, nudity and language.
The film is in the Slavic languages with English subtitles. The film's running time
is two hours and seven minutes.
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