Monday, 27 February 2012

In the Land of Blood and Honey

In the Land of Blood and Honey; war drama, USA, 2011; D: Angelina Jolie, S: Zana Marjanović, Goran Kostić, Rade Šerbedžija, Vanesa Glođo, Nikola Đuričko, Branko Đurić

Sarajevo. A young Bosniak painter, Ajla, meets a Serb police officer, Danijel, in a night bar. Their potential relationship is interrupted, however, when the Bosnian War erupts. Ajla is deported to a camp run by the Army of Republika Srpska, but she meets Danijel there, who - as son of Nebojša, general of the Army of Republika Srpska - tries to make her stay there more comfortable and thinks they can continue their relationship. After she betrays him, he kills her, but regrets it instantly. He then quits the army and turns himself in to the international authorities.

Nominated for a Golden Globe as best foreign language film, Angelina Jolie's directorial debut "In the Land of Blood and Honey" - possibly deriving its title from the eponymous series of photos of the Yugoslav Wars by photojournalist Ron Haviv - became an infamous example of smear campaign when a part of public from Republika Srpska crashed its rating on IMDb through organized low voting. Others complained at the story for not adding a "balance" in the conflict, for showing Sebs in general in a negative light. The first part of the complaint does not stand - can you, for instance, imagine "adding a balance" in "The Killing Fields" and "Come and See" by showing the Khmer Rouge and the SS as misunderstood guys who just wanted to do something good? - yet the second part of the complaint does have a point since Jolie unfortunately fell into the trap of (occasional) black and white portrait of Serbs, not just the Army of Republika Srpska. She manages to outweigh it at some occasions, though (for instance, in one scene a Bosniak woman says that she does not like Serbs, but a Bosniak man intervenes by saying they are "not all the same", even adding that his own mother is a Serb), and even the seemingly one-dimensional bad guy, general Nebjoša (Rade Serbedzija), has a scene where he reveals to be a far more complex character (when he gives a long rant about how his mother was executed in World War II by the Axis-allied Muslim forces, which is the reason why he thinks he is fighting for the right cause).

The movie is, overall, surprisingly good, equipped with short but effective moments of shocking-haunting war images (the sequence where the Republika Srpska paramilitary separates the women from men in front of their apartment complex and then executes men is devastating; the image of a dead body lying in the river, possibly of someone who just wanted to get some water...) and good cinematography. A lot of misunderstanding came when the movie was marketed as a "love story", since this is not the case (evident in the dark "twist ending"), and the best way to see it is to not even have that in mind - it is more an essay about where the relationship between Ajla and Danijel could have gone had it not been interrupted by the war. Jolie probably wanted to deliberately leave Danijel as an ambiguous character, torn between his affection and politics, yet her biggest lack is the indecisive nature between Ajla and him - one moment he is kind to her, almost in love, the other he just treats her as a slave and does not even try to help her escape for years from the camp - which leaves it inconsistent. Still, despite a rather thin story development, Jolie demonstrated a sure hand in directing, whereas the bleak finale shows all the consequences of reducing people not just to their ethnicity and religion, but even further reducing them to the mistakes of their forefathers.

Grade:++

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