In the Land of Blood and Honey
by Richard von Busack
AFTER THE American Civil War, politicians used to make hay by reminding the crowd of Confederate atrocities. “Waving the bloody shirt” was the expression. Whatever the Bosnian word for “shirt” is, director/writer Angelina Jolie windmills it for In the Land of Blood and Honey (showtimes here). The title’s awkwardness is well matched in the script. Ante-(Balkan)-bellum, a secular Muslim artist named Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) enjoys some time at a nightclub with a Bosnian Serb policeman, Danijel (Goran Kostic). The two re-encounter each other once the ethnic cleansing begins in the 1990s. Ajla is transported with a crowd of other women to a prison/bordello. Danijel is now an army officer—and is revealed to be the son of a racist general in the Serb forces (Rade Serbedzija).
Actors who turn to directing always revenge themselves for every time some other director asked them to turn it down and bring in less. It’s clear Marjanovic, with her curvy frame and generous lips is Jolie’s surrogate.
While the Story of O thing between captor and captive has a twist, the incidents of romance aren’t enough honey to sweeten the movie. Jolie pumps us to the max with the horrors committed by shaven-headed goons. We aren’t redeemed by romantic relief. What we really end up desiring is to see Belgrade bombed all over again.
Some viewers have seen the film as a valid critique of the United States’ “pacifism” (to quote one reviewer) in the Balkan War. Let’s remember that many pacifists were fooled into supporting the Iraq invasion by tales of Saddam’s rape camps. Give some credit to the nonviolent movement Otpor! and how it helped send Slobo on his one-way trip to the Hague.
Jolie strives here, but in the arts, the race is not to the striver. In the Land of Blood and Honey is filmed like an updated Holocaust movie, with loads of shocks and a Good German (or Bosnian) lead, with mouthfuls of historical exposition and, finally, with the vain hope that underwritten characters will look as elemental as silent movie figures. Spend the 2 hours you’d spend here at the library, trying to untangle the grievous story of the war. And donate the $10 ticket price to the UN.