In the Land of Blood and Honey: Ambitious Angelina

What did critics have to say about the star’s directorial debut?

Express January 03, 2012

You may love her or hate her, but you have to admit that Angelina Jolie has star power. Whatever the actor does, whether it is taking her children for a haircut or making a film, the world knows about it. Jolie’s directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is a drama set in Bosnia during and amidst the Bosnian War (1992-95). As a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Jolie has visited many post-conflict regions, and Bosnia was one of those places. What she learned there about a war between neighbours haunted her so much; she had to express her thoughts in her first screenplay, reports

The film released late last month and has been honoured by Hollywood movie producers with a special award for its portrayal of social issues. The Producers Guild of America said on Tuesday that the movie, Jolie’s directing debut which she also wrote and co-produced, would be given the 2102 Stanley Kramer Award, reports Reuters. Established in 2002 in memory of the Hollywood director, the award is given annually to a movie producer whose work “illuminates provocative social issues in an accessible and elevating fashion.”

Additionally, Jolie has decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from soundtrack sales to help kids in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reports Digital Spy.

The plot

The film tells a tale of love between a Serb man and a Muslim woman before the 1992-1995 Bosnian war who later meet in different circumstances when he is an army officer and she is his detainee. The complicated love story begins in pre-war Sarajevo. That’s where Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Serbian policeman, and Ajla (Zana Marjonovic), a Bosnian artist, strike sparks while on a first date at a nightclub. As they dance cheek to cheek, their budding romance is interrupted by a bombing, a harbinger of the carnage to come.

Soon, war has broken out and Ajla is among a group of Bosnian women taken prisoner and moved to a military barracks where Danijel is a commander. The women have been brought there to serve as both servants and forced sexual partners for the men.

Danijel takes Ajla under his protection, making clear to his men that she’s off limits to them. The resulting relationship between the two is a fraught mixture of passion and distrust, with neither ever quite sure where the other stands emotionally.

More power to Jolie, both for taking on such a demanding subject and for not trying to pretty it up or poeticise it. But the central conceit, a wartime Romeo and Juliet story, around which she has built the movie often seems an awkwardly manufactured device, one that is at odds with the film’s almost documentary-like aspirations.

As a director, Jolie avoids showy angles or camera movements and instead concentrates on telling a story. She displays a solid sense of how to build narrative momentum, though she occasionally lets a scene stretch on too long to allow an actor an extended moment.

Overall, Jolie has nothing to be embarrassed about and much of which to be proud with this movie. Even in moments where the film doesn’t quite work, she shows ample evidence of ambition and a discerning director’s eye.


Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2012.


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