In the Land of Blood and Honey (review)
The morass of ancient ethnic hatreds and the legacy of centuries of internecine warfare in the Balkans is, to most Americans — perhaps to many people outside the region — little more than a confusing story on the news about yet another faraway place that always seems to be at war with itself. This ruthless movie — a fictional tale set amidst the collapse of Sarajevo in the Bosnia civil strife of 1992-5 — puts a human face on a conflict that was all but ignored by the rest of the world even as it encompassed the worst genocide in Europe since the Nazis and horrific war crimes from mass systematic rape to the use of civilians as human shields. Astonishingly, though it is written and directed by actress Angelina Jolie — who has been a UN goodwill ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina — there is nothing “Hollywood” about this film: it stars local actors and is in the local languages, and it shies not one whit from the horrors of the war. Before the region erupted in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), who is Bosnian, and Danijel (Goran Kostic: Taken), a Serb, had begun a passionate romance, oblivious to the fact that their backgrounds “should” make them enemies. When they meet again later, she is a prisoner and he is the commander of the “rape camp” where she and her fellow Bosnian women are brutalized on a daily basis. The senseless evil of the war is underscored by the kabuki pantomime they engage in, attempting to reignite their romance amidst such a nightmare. It’s a dreadful thing to watch, on the personal level of their bewilderment and desperation, and on the larger level on which twisted patriotism turns otherwise good people into robots of war. Some have decried the film for lacking “balance” — as if there could be any excuse for Serbian atrocities — but this is not a journalistic or academic exercise: it is an old-fashioned tragedy about people, not politics.