Angelina Jolie's directorial debut, in The Land Of Blood And Honey, hits theaters today, and it will be interesting to see what kind of reception it receives: The most famous woman in the world could tell any story she wanted, and this is what she chose. A couple torn asunder by the Bosnian war. A love story, but really about a love that could have been. The film is distressing, harrowing and gritty, and it's been kept under tight wraps: No Hollywood types saw the script (written by Angelina) before filming began, and although I attended a screening and a press conference (yes, she was there) a few weeks ago, I, as well as the other journalists in the room, were instructed not to write, tweet, or talk about the film or the event until its release.
So here we are. Release day. The film — which will be shown to audiences in Bosnian, with English subtitles — focuses on Danijel (played by Goran Kostoc) and Ajla (pronounced Ayla, and played by Zana Marjanovic), who, in the opening scenes, are on a date in glittery and beautiful Sarajevo, dancing, drinking, listening to music. Out of nowhere, a bomb explodes. Cut to: Months later. Danijel is an officer in the Serb Army. Ajla is a Muslim artist taken — along with her family and neighbors — by Serb troops to a camp, where women are held prisoner and forced to cook, clean and serve the Serb soldiers. Despite what you may have heard, this is not, repeat, not, a movie about a woman who falls in love with her rapist. Many women get raped; a lot of awful things happen, but that particular rumor is false.
Here's what is true: Many of the cast members have very vivid memories of the war, and what Bosnia was like in the 1990s. Vanessa Glodjo, who plays Ajla's sister, has a wound in her leg from the war. Ermin Sijamija, who plays a Serb soldier, fought in the war (on the other side), and was visibly upset during many parts of the press conference, recalling how once, he got a phone call from a high school friend who informed him he'd been in the crosshairs of his gun that day. I didn't shoot you because I recognized you, but tomorrow it might not be me at the sniper post. Move faster when you cross that street, the friend warned him.
At the press conference, Angelina Jolie was asked how important the film's commercial success is, and said, "well, we had a very low budget, so we're starting at a good base." She added that for her, the success was being able to even make the movie. "To us, the success was this cast from all sides agreeing on a story and coming together."
Is the movie good? It is well-directed. The performances are excellent — many of the actors are frighteningly believable, and it's obvious that something special happened on set, to capture such raw, real moments. (At the press conference, Angelina said, "I hope the actors involved are acknowledged for being extraordinary actors.") But it's not a movie that is easy to sit through. It's not a movie that is very satisfying to watch. It's informative and well-crafted, but there's so much tension, so much violence, so much sadness and atrocity that it's not an enjoyable film. That said, I have a huge amount of respect for the movie, which, unlike some films about war, does not just tell tales of men shooting at each other. Angelina Jolie crafted a story about what conflict does to people. How it changes men, women, lovers, families. The women in this film are not hand-wringing weepy-eyed ladies waiting for husbands and sons to come back from battlefields, but strong, gutsy, determined. I spoke with Zana Marjanovic — who plays Ajla — briefly after the press conference, and she put it this way: "I think it's a really important film for women… It's such recent history, and it's very important to know what happened — all the horrific things that women went through, but survived. And actually, in the end, broke the silence and for the first time, in the history of war - and that's a long history — actually spoke about what happened to them, and thanks to their testimonials, it lead to [mass] rape being considered a war crime."
'In The Land Of Blood And Honey': The Reviews Are In! [MTV News]
In the Land of Blood and Honey - Written and Directed by Angelina Jolie [Women And Hollywood]
'In The Land of Blood and Honey' Review: Angelina Jolie Impresses [LA Times]
In a Fractured Society, Ethnic War Kindles Both Hatred and Desire [NY Times]