In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011)

War is bad. But rape is worse. Right, people? Come on!

Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Bosnian Serb police officer, and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a Bosnian Muslim artist, are lovers who find themselves dancing and having a great time one night. Then, the Bosnian War breaks out and all of a sudden, there is literally death and destruction everywhere, forcing both of them to be on opposite sides of the battle. And as the conflict and violence engulfs the Balkan region, they find themselves actually coming closer and closer to one another, without either even knowing. And a few months later, while serving in the Bosnian Serb army, Danijel once again encounters Ajla when troops under his command take her from the apartment she shares with her sister. He takes her in under his own and, in a way, protects her. But at the same time, he’s also still taking advantage of her and her desperation to live and save the lives of those around her. What will keep these two together? Or better yet, what will separate them?

“Always stay warm.”

No matter what, you have to give Angelina Jolie some credit. She’s one of the biggest names in Hollywood and yet, for some reason, when she gets behind the camera, she doesn’t go the usual route you’d expect. Instead of taking safe, relatively light, star-studded pictures (like she could easily do), she takes these dark, disturbing, and rather queasy tales of violence and the ugly sides of humanity.

Have any of these movies really been good? Not quite, but hey, at least she’s got some spunk and in ways, that’s sort of all that matters, right? Kind of. But for her debut, you can’t help but notice that there’s a lot that needs to be worked on.

Anything that does need to be worked on, however, isn’t from behind the camera.

As usual, Jolie knows how to frame a shot and, of course, has an eye for detail. This may sound like obvious and faint praise, but it really isn’t; being able to ensure that your movie looks, sounds, and feels like it’s a top-notch production, is pretty hard. She allows for everything to come together, in front of the screen, that doesn’t make it seem like it’s coming from a newcomer, but from someone who has been watching, studying, and waiting, desperately. That passion, that inspiration, and yes, that drive, is worthy of being commended for.

But then you get to the script that she worked on and yeah, that’s where the problems really show. Because while this is no doubt an anti-war movie about the inhumane actions that took, and continue to, take place in the Bosnian War, it also, at least, attempts to be a love story about two people, torn apart by war and violence.

The perfect love. According to Angelina Jolie, that is.

But is it really?

See, what’s odd about this so-called “romance” that we spend all of five minutes seeing develop, before literal bombs explode and we’re all of a sudden, off to war, is that most of what we see developed between them, has mostly to do with rape and violence. There’s no love, no heart, no passion – just a lot of kicking, screaming, and well, I’ll say it again, raping. It’s actually really off-putting and while you could try to make the assumption that Jolie’s trying to make some sort of statement, all of that gets chucked out of the window when, after being forcibly held down and raped, Ajla begins to draw Danijel a loving little portrait of him, as he lays on the bed and looks on.

And this doesn’t happen once, but numerous times, almost to the point of self-parodying. And it’s weird, because Jolie doesn’t seem to ever realize that none of this works, or even registers as much as she may want it to. She thinks that there’s a sweet, almost universal point being made about how, no matter what sort of conflicts exist in this world, true love will overcome all.

Silly, right? Well, also, take into consideration that at least half of this movie is dedicated to watching people suffer, be suddenly killed, and better yet, thrown off ledges. It’s the kind of movie that’s dark and disturbing, and in that sense, Jolie nails just what she’s going for. However, when it comes to the “love” side of the story, just nope, it doesn’t register.

Better luck next time, right?

Consensus: Definitely a surprisingly admirable and noble effort on the part of Jolie, In the Land of Blood and Honey also doesn’t quite work as being both an anti-war and love story, making it seem like a hard swing and a miss.

4.5 / 10

“So in this next scene, I want you to kill people. But also be sympathetic and sweet. Cool? Thanks.”

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

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