Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for war violence and atrocities including rape, sexuality, nudity and language
Now playing at Camera 12 in San Jose, California:
Before I begin, I would like to preface this review by saying that I am in no way an expert on the Bosnian War. So, before I receive any hate mail from angry Bosnian’s or Serbian’s about how I am just a stupid American who is criticizing events that I didn’t live through, please realize that I am not criticizing Bosnian’s or Serbians or war tactics or cultural differences. My job is to criticize FILMS!!!
Angelina Jolie hates Serbians, there I said it! I am joking of course, she loves all races. Angelina Jolie (Salt) receives her first writing and feature film directing credits here in “In the Land of Blood and Honey”; a film that is surprisingly almost entirely in Serbian and Bosnian. There has been some controversy (at least there was for a few months) about this actually being an idea Jolie stole and called her own. But after all is said and done, whether or not she came up with the original idea will be the least controversial aspect to arise from this film. Starring Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic, it is not the acting which drags this film down, it is the storyline Jolie chooses to focus on instead of a straight forward war story. Chronicling the systematic encampment, rape and slaughter of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) ethnic group during the Bosnian War sounds like some very compelling and powerful material, and “In the Land of Blood and Honey” would have been compelling and powerful, if that was what the movie was about. Instead we get a love story, set in the Bosian War between a high ranking male Bosnian Serb soldier (Kostic) named Danijel and his female Bosniak prisoner (Marjanovic) named Ajla, and a very unsatisfying love story at that. In fact the few instances when the story turns its focus from Ajla to her sister, who has not been captured and is attempting to build a resistance against the Serbs, the film becomes far more interesting and gritty. So much so, that an argument could be made about how Ajla’s sister would have made a more realistic and compelling focus for this full length feature film than Ajla herself. Furthermore, without Ajla’s sister’s subplot, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is a war film that only lightly dabbles in the brutality of war for less than a third of the movie and then it’s back to the flimsy love story. In the end, Jolie attempts to address the political, brutal and cultural elements that make war so complex, but spends far, far, far too much time telling the remedial Romeo and Juliet love story between Danijel and Ajla. I am not against love stories by any means, but to have an average love story set during a fairly recent war, where genocide, rape, and political cover-ups took place, the love story aspect tends to take away (or dumb down) every other important point the film is attempting to make. This is kind of like having a hardcore love story in “Schindler’s List”. It just doesn’t work.
What will undoubtedly anger mass audiences the most: Because of the way Jolie structures her film, the tone inevitably does come off as one sided in the same way the aforementioned “Schindler’s List” does. Which in and of itself isn’t bad, i.e. Nazi’s are horrible people. But because “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is a far less developed film, the “all Serbian’s (except for one) are inherently ruthless and cruel” mentality this film encourages, comes off as unnaturally skewed especially to those (like me) who are unfamiliar with the in-depth events of the Bosnian War. Now I am not saying that the Serbs in this film, who are shown ethnically cleansing a mass group of Muslims, were not horrible people, BUT the way this movie presents an entire race (The Serbs) as irrational and blood-thirsty, could be perceived as quite one sided. And for that reason, I can see many audiences finding this the most off-putting aspect of “In the Land of Blood and Honey”. But then again, I am not a critic of wars.
Final Thought: I will give Jolie some credit here for manufacturing some brilliant shots (mostly the war scenes) that work to show her talent behind a camera. But much as Jolie tries, it seems as if she knows more about the logistics of a love story than about creating a compelling war film. Not to say that “In the Land of Blood and Honey” isn’t a watchable effort, and does minimally redeem itself in the final two scenes of the film, BUT how this film was nominated for a Golden Globe only proves that the Hollywood Foreign Press will do anything to hang out with big stars.
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