Angelina Jolie’s first feature film as director and screenwriter was 2011’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War that tore the Balkan region apart in the 1990s. Even though the movie got mixed reviews, Jolie said in interviews that the experience of telling this tragic war story had a profound effect on her. It may not be a coincidence that Jolie’s second feature film as director is also a story of human survival during a war: 2014’s “Unbroken,” based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling biography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star who survived being a prisoner of war during World War II. Unlike “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which had a cast that was mostly Bosnian actors, “Unbroken” cast consists primarily of British and American actors. (Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini in the movie.)
“In the Land of Blood and Honey” tells the story of Danijel (played by Goran Kostić) and Ajla (played by Zana Marjanović), two Bosnians from different sides of a brutal ethnic conflict. Danijel, a Bosnian Serb police officer, and Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim artist, are together before the war, but their relationship is changed as violence engulfs the country. Months later, Danijel is serving under his father, General Nebojsa Vukojevich (played by Rade Šerbedžija), as an officer in the Bosnian Serb Army. He and Ajla come face to face again when she is taken from the apartment she shares with her sister, Lejla (played by Vanessa Glodjo), and Lejla’s infant child by troops under Danijel’s command. As the conflict takes hold of their lives, their relationship changes, their motives and connection to one another become ambiguous and their allegiances grow uncertain. Here is what Jolie said in a January 2012 webchat for “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
Why is it so important to tell the story of the Bosnian War?
How could it not be? It was a war that happened in our generation, to our generation. I was 17 at the time. Vanessa [Glodjo] was trapped inside the siege. For almost four years, the people lived the siege. And there were rape camps and concentration camps, and it was such a horrible time in our history, and it was ignored by the international community. And it’s a shame, and I feel we should all revisit it, so we can do our best to [make sure] it does not happen again.
How was the writing process for “In the Land of Blood and Honey”?
I never planned to direct anything. After traveling around the world for 10 years and being frustrated by crimes against women and lack on intervention, I decided I’d just write. I thought I’d do in script form, because I’d never done that. I didn’t have a final draft. I had to do “space, space space” [on the page]. It took me a long time. [She laughs.]
And then I left it on the desk. For me, it was an excuse that forced me to do homework about a war that I felt I should learn about. So I read a lot of books. I watched a lot of documentaries. I met a lot of people and I met a lot of victims of war, and they helped me to fill out the story. But then, I decided if we were to make a film, we should have a cast from all different sides, from all different backgrounds, from all different points of view.
And if, by some miracle, we could get that kind of a cast to agree, then it would really be a film worth making, and these different views and these different people would help me finish the script. So, in fact, in didn’t take me long — a few months — to write the first draft of it. But through the entire process, we spoke together, we wrote together. Each cast member would tell me their own personal histories and their own personal stories
Every day, we were making adjustments. And that’s what I think helped us get as close as we could to find the balance, which is what we were trying to do, to not make it “good guys and bad guys and black and white” and something simplified, because it’s not. It’s so complex, so we had to keep talking and talking and trying to make sure.
For more info: “In the Land of Blood and Honey” website