Angelina Jolie's 'In the Land of Blood an d Honey' an involving political thriller
Angelina Jolie’s debut film as a writer-director has a cause, vivid characters and a compelling story. “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” an ill-fated romance involving a Muslim and a Serb, is set against the backdrop of the 1990s civil war in Bosnia.
The film is so involving you may find yourself shouting at the screen for the Muslim heroine (Zana Marjanovic) to make a break for it, abandon her Serb soldier lover (Goran Kostic) and save herself. She doesn’t know when to get out and neither, at times, does Jolie. The director could have and should have trimmed this involving but slow-in-spots political thriller to a faster, more palatable recounting of recent history.
A brief, lyrical prologue re-creates life in newly independent Bosnia-Herzegovina just before the war and paints it as a quiet land of cafes, clubs, clean streets and seeming tolerance. Ajla (Marjanovic), a painter living with her single-mom sister in Sarajevo, goes on a lovely date with Danijel (Kostic). They dance, they drink, they sing along with the accordion-rock band.
Then a bomb goes off suddenly, and clubgoers are left dead and wounded. Danijel, a cop, helps the wounded. Ajla comforts a dying woman. “Everything’s going to be all right,” she whispers, a line repeated by the doomed, the delusional and by their murderers throughout the film.
Soon, of course, civil war begins. The majority-Muslim region declares its independence, and the Christian Serb minority fights back. We see Muslims rounded up by uniformed brutes and town-by-town ethnic cleansing. Women are raped. Men are hauled off, shot and buried in mass graves.
Ajla is captured, but she discovers she has a protector. Danijel is a captain, the son of a general. He can’t be too obvious about it among his men, but he still has a shred of humanity left, one awakened by seeing Ajla. He keeps her alive. He resists sniping at civilians indiscriminately. He seems to want credit for this from Ajla, something she’s slow to give.
Jolie lets Danijel’s father, played by veteran character actor Rade Serbedzija, explain 500 years of ethnic hatred, which Serbedzija does with a deadpan venality that will chill you to the bone. Even monsters feel justified in their crimes.
Jolie’s debut film has tender moments of love and horrific bursts of violence. It’s a good movie on a great subject, even if it is well short of a great film. Jolie has a point of view, a good eye (the combat scenes are on the money) and a passion for the material that informs the story even as it sags. Give her credit for putting her talent to use in a film that no one else would make.
More Details: ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’
* * *
out of four stars
Rated R; war violence, atrocities, rape, sexuality, nudity, language
2 hours, 7 minutes
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