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December 18, 2011 4:20 PM
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"In the Land of Blood and Honey" is a Surprisingly Effective Debut For Filmmaker Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie directs "In the Land of Blood and Honey." FilmDistrict
Arguably the most famous actress working today, Angelina Jolie has made third-world advocacy a major part of her brand. For the topic of her feature writing-directing debut, she choose the devastation of the nineties-era Bosnian War, an incursion largely forgotten in the West but still reverberating in the nightmares of the Bosnians who suffered through it. Certainly it matches her actor-activist interests and she can afford to put a camera wherever she wants. But does she know what to do with it?

It turns out the answer is, basically, yes. "In the Land of Blood and Honey" breaks no fresh ground in the tradition of staid, grim war dramas from which it hails, but Jolie successfully capitalizes on a juicy premise that finds Bosnia woman Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) falling into an affair with Danijel (Goran Kostic), the Serbian head of a prison camp where she's held captive. Working from her own screenplay, Jolie churns out a steadily involving, competently dramatic tale. The movie also stands out as a strong technical feat: Shot on location with an entirely Bosnian cast speaking Serbo-Croatian (although an English version was alternately shot), it thoroughly inhabits the period setting with a consistent feel for the cold, brutal events of its backdrop.

Set in 1992, "In the Land of Blood and Honey" begins with a blunt title card explaining that pre-war, Muslims, Serbs and Croats lived "in harmony," a sharp contrast to the discord that soon takes place. During a brief prologue, Jolie introduces her characters' initial courtship when Ajla and Danijel meet cute on the dance floor of a Bosnian club. Their perfect moment is cut short by the flash of an explosion announcing the beginning of the war. Suddenly, Danijel is a soldier following orders and Ajla is a woman in trouble. As bodies lie around them and the violence begins, Jolie completes her opening sequence with an effectively sharp turn into chaos.

The ensuing drama plays out like Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book" crossed with Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution," as Ajla avoids the brunt of prison camp life when Danijel hires her to draw portraits of the guards; meanwhile, she secretly helps rebel forces, including her sister, plan a counterattack. The couple's pillow talk implies that politics stay out of the bedroom, but Ajla's motives remain highly suspect when she decides to take on the role of double-agent. Danijel simultaneously struggles with a different conflict of interest, living in the shadow of his militant father's demands while falling for Ajla.

"In the Land of Blood and Honey." FilmDistrict
Aided by veteran cinematographer Dean Semler (responsible for lensing the grimy, violent images of "The Road Warrior" and  "Apocalypto," among many other credits), Jolie infuses her star-crossed romantic tragedy with gravitas, particularly with her unsettlingly upfront portrait of the soldiers' abuse of women. Her derivative plot lags at times, and the screenplay falters whenever the characters launch into prolonged discussions of their relative allegiances. "It's politics, not murder," Danijel tells Ajla, one of several one-liners that drag the movie down. But in these moments the movie's salvation comes from its two capable leads, whose focused performances carry some of the more problematic moments of half-baked theatricality.

The eventual fallout of their relationship arrives not with an explosive score or climactic shootout but through a few terse exchanges and one bullet. Jolie's morbid atmosphere suggests a restrained "Schindler's List," exploring national suffrage through a handful of personal experiences imbued with dread. She does right by the material, even though she never pushes it in a particularly fresh direction. An end credit deems the Bosnian war the deadliest since WWII and the most impressive thing about "In the Land of Blood and Honey" is that Jolie makes you feel it.

criticWIRE grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Already nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Foreign Film, "In the Land of Blood and Honey" presents a challenge for distributor FilmDistrict, which opens the movie in limited theatrical release this Friday ahead of a wider national release planned for January. Jolie's celebrity gives the movie tremendous visibility, but its grim historical backdrop and foreign language make it a harder sell to American audiences. However, Jolie's publicity for the film may help scrape by with a small profit during the January release, if not during the much smaller limited run this month.
 

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13 Comments

  • fasil yibru | April 22, 2013 3:23 AMReply

    in the blood and honey movie screen play had been taken from my screen play DETONATOR that wrote in 2010 about about one US peace solidier and somalian girl,those who could be protect the culture,religion,idiology and so on if you want this screen play i can send at any time ihave witness and eviedence for this.
    so let me know your answer before going to others

  • Vida | February 20, 2012 5:22 AMReply

    It is a political movie. It is not art. it is propaganda. Read what Bakira Hasecic, real rape victim , has to say about movie and Angelina.
    Bakira’s answers and reflections:

    "You know what! All her money and world-wide popularity were not enough to charm us and buy our support. Our pain and suffering were not for sale. All we need is the TRUTH! Believe me, the movie will have a negative impact on many women, particularly those who already have shaky marriages due to war traumas and the rapes. This will create a lot of problems.
    I watched the trailer for a while and almost immediately felt sick. I felt like I was beaten and raped all over again; degraded and worthless. In her movie the concentration camp is presented almost as a 5- star hotel, where r**** and sexual abuse are filled with pleasure, not with pain, suffering and torture.
    Shame on all who in any capacity participated in creation of this movie – A BIG LIE!
    I was further irritated by her statement that she loves Bosnia and Bosnian people. She visited Bosnia-Herzegovina only twice. How many people could she get acquainted with? What could she learn and understand about Bosnia?
    She completed the movie and the opening will be soon. The fact that this lie will be released soon is distressing and very painful. I want to believe that God sees everything and will judge her deeds. Only He knows how many tears will be shed because of this immoral lie."

  • Jim Adamson | February 20, 2012 2:25 AMReply

    Worst move I have ever seen.
    Avoid it.

  • Marco | February 14, 2012 6:27 PMReply

    Worst movie I've watched over the past few years. Without quality, without meaning, without almost anything that a movie should have. I just wonder where did the Golden Globe nominations came from. Once it was a reward for the movie qualities, not for political actions and activities. Anyway, she managed only to justify the investment of hidden investors who wanted to show events in Bosnia in black and white format. So stereotypical!!!

  • Tiamat | January 25, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    This movie is big forgery !
    One big fat lie!
    Movie is an art, not propaganda,or is no longer?

  • bea3sa | January 25, 2012 6:40 AMReply

    ajde ba Eva, sjeti se Srebrenice i sve će ti bit jasno, ko je stradao, ko je napadao, a ko je bio silovan,..ja ne vidim nigdje da se javljaju srpske žene da su silovane u tolikoj mjeri ili bilo kako kao što su muslimanke....životinjski i brutalno..

  • Eva | January 20, 2012 1:35 AMReply

    I hated her bullshit film. Marlyn you say she is "a good person and a humanitarian"??? Hmmm, that is not a characterization I will use for Jolie since the making of this propaganda film. Wy did she choose to support the propaganda of those who bastardized Serbs in the same war she supposedly knows enough to make a movie... Get your facts straight Angelina if you want to deal with politics. The war in Bosnia was not about Serbs killing muslims it was about the bloodshed of all three sides: Serbs, Croats and Muslims. So get your facts from the other side of the story as well. I suggest talk to Professor Emir Kusturica.

  • bea3sa | January 25, 2012 6:43 AM

    Cuj Kusturica, i to profesor,,,hahahahaha... cetnikuso,dok je takvih bice i ratova...

  • bea3sa | January 25, 2012 6:42 AM

    Čuj Kusturica, i to profesor,,,hahahahaha... Četnikušo,dok je takvih biće i ratova...

  • bea3sa | January 25, 2012 6:40 AM

    ajde ba Eva, sjeti se Srebrenice i sve ce ti bit jasno, ko je stradao, ko je napadao, a ko je bio silovan,..ja ne vidim nigdje da se javljaju srpske zene da su silovane u tolikoj mjeri ili bilo kako kao sto su muslimanke....zivotinjski i brutalno..

  • Marlyn | December 19, 2011 9:48 PMReply

    I am looking forward seeing this movie, Angelina Jolie is a talented artist and behind the camera is something that is very chalenging. This movie though open some wounds on the astrocities happen two decades ago but it will serves as a reminder that war is evil. Kudos to Angelina a good person and humanitarian.

  • Mary | December 18, 2011 8:35 PMReply

    I have always seen the fiercely independent and intelligent woman behind the media narratives. I am looking forward to seeing the movie when it opens in my city. I have read from some women that have seen it that the story stayed with them and they couldn't shake it for days.

  • Edgar | December 18, 2011 5:10 PMReply

    Seems like a fair review of an interesting movie but do you realize that you include some big spoilers in your review. If you're going to do that you really should warn people.

    Looks like Jolie has potential behind the camera and that's a real plus. Good for her.