Written by: Victoria Alexander | February 29th, 2012
A brilliant debut written and directed by Jolie. She has an artist’s eye, strong personal vision, and a masterful command of her stars.
No one has paid attention to the feel-good term “never again”. The term “never again” was coined after the Holocaust as a challenge to the world to put an end to genocides and hate crimes. Unfortunately, it was not “never again”. Genocides continued to happen and are still happening today.*
It is 1992 and tensions between Serbs and Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia were escalating to frightening levels. Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), an artist and a Bosnian, agrees to go out on a date with Danijel (Goran Kostic), a cop and a Serb. They meet at a club and as the evening progresses, dance and flirt with each other. Their date ends when a bomb explodes in the club killing many people. Ajla and Danijel survive but they are now thrust headlong into the center of a war characterized by a newly designated term, “ethnic cleansing”.
Croats and Bosniaks were expelled by Serbs, Serbs and Bosniaks by Croats, and Bosniaks expelled rival populations from their domains. This period of ethnic cleansing culminated in 1995, when the long-established population of Krajina was completely expunged. Serbs who remained, mostly elderly and helpless, were murdered by Croatian paramilitaries.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY highlights the savagery of the Serbs. Danijel has been given the position of running a military camp by his father, Serbian General Nebojsa (Rade Serbedzija). When Ajla is one of the women rounded up to be a sex slave in his camp, he saves her from rape. Danijel keeps her away from his men and takes her as his lover. Having a Bosnian Muslim for a lover and protecting her, is highly dangerous for him.
Of course I have heard about “ethnic cleansing” but this film boldly and bluntly puts it all out there. The rape and humiliation of the women and Nazi-like behavior of the soldiers is harrowing – important because it happened in the 1990s. The Serbian soldiers killed civilians as ruthlessly as the Nazis. They took people from their homes with the same violence shown the Jews during Hitler’s reign.
As the screenwriter, Jolie gives her characters multi-layered dimensions. Danijel is cruel – he must be – but he is torn by shame and his love for Ajla. The scenes between Ajla and Danijel are erotic and yet frightening. The set design of Ajla’s imprisonment-safe house is ultra-dramatic, stark and painterly provocative.
While not beautiful by Hollywood standards, Jolie and her cinematographer, Dean Semler, imbue Marjanovic and Kostic with dazzling closeups. Through Jolie’s eyes, Kostic becomes a compelling sex symbol. As is necessary for all great directors, Jolie has fallen in love with her actors.
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*I visited Rwanda in 2007. The Rwandan Genocide hangs heavy over the country. You can feel it. And they do not like white people (probably due to memories of forced colonialism). The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000-1,000,000 people. Over the course of approximately 100 days, as much as 20% of the country’s total population was killed, not by the military or secret police, but by the common people. You could murder, by machete, anyone you wanted for 100 days! The people gathered and raided villages, killing friends, neighbors and even spouses. Children often participated. It was the culmination of longstanding ethnic competition and tensions between the minority Tutsi, who had controlled power for centuries, and the majority Hutu peoples, who had come to power in the rebellion of 1959–62 and overthrown the Tutsi monarchy.