Review of In the Land of Blood and Honey

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Angelina Jolie makes her directorial debut in this wartime romantic drama, set in Sarajevo and its surrounding areas before and during the Bosnian War. Danijel (Goran Kostić), a soldier fighting for the Bosnian Serbs, re-encounters Ajla (Zana Marjanović), a Bosniak woman he was involved with before the war, and who is now a captive in the camp he oversees. Their once promising connection has become ambiguous as their motives have been changed by the conflict.
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--Movie Review: "In the Land of Blood and Honey"
Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: December 23, 2011
Directed by: Angelina Jolie
Genre: Drama, Romance & War

"In the Land of Blood and Honey" is a film that details a doomed romance in the midst of the Bosnian War. Directed by Angelina Jolie, the film showcases the horrific ethnic cleansing attempts made by the Bosnian Serbs after the country of Yugoslavia broke apart in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution. Jolie, who is known for her international charity and relief efforts, puts her heart and soul into the film. While her intentions are good, the film itself is a bit too on the nose to be considered anything more than an interesting experiment.

The film begins with a brief blurb giving viewers some background on the origin of the crisis. Yugoslavia is breaking apart following the fall of the USSR, leading to a number of ethnic divisions within the country. With this in mind, the film introduces the viewer to Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a young Muslim woman who is on her way to a nightclub. At the club she meets Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Serbian police officer, whom she immediately takes a liking to. Before their romance can blossom, a bomb explodes in the club, killing several people.

This is the world the characters of "In the Land of Blood and Honey" inhabit. Jolie spares no punches in the depiction of war. It is bleak, bloody and brutal, taking viewers on a horrific journey into the harshness of this particular armed conflict. When Ajla and her family are taken to a prison camp, the audience is shown the brutal atrocities as they cocur, from women being shot on the street for no reason to other women being treated as sex slaves.

It is here that Ajla runs into Danijel. He is in charge of the camp, under direct orders from his own father. They rekindle their connection, making their love story the driving force behind the movie's brutal depiction of life during wartime.

Filmed on location in Sarajevo, the film's director made the choice to hire native actors. The result is a film that features the local dialect and scenery, something that may turn many American viewers off. Jolie's choice in foregoing American actors should be applauded, for it adds a sense of realism to the film that could have been missing had the actors not been natives of the region.

By filming the movie with the native language and on location, Jolie is able to create a distressing environment without resorting to standard Hollywood tropes. While her style is a bit ham-fisted, she is able to showcase the brutality of war in a way that transcends language barriers. For her directorial debut, Angelina Jolie chose a film that many of her peers would shy away from. Most actors of her stature might choose a romance or action film as their first film. It's to Jolie's credit that she made a film that has a subject matter that is close to her heart.

However, "In the Land of Blood and Honey" is a bit too on the nose. A film like this is bound to be political, but there are points in the film when the politics are put too far ahead of the story. The character of Danijel is beautifully drawn out, but his fellow Bosnian Serbs are often treated as one-dimensional. The same can be said about Ajla, who feels like a real person, whereas her family and other Muslims in the film are simply there to show or tell the audience about the atrocities that are occurring.

The love story itself is fine, but it's been done so many times before that it almost feels cliché. Luckily, the two leads have enough talent to make it work by truly selling their pain and conflict. As the eyes and ears of the audience, the leads take the audience through the war with them. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue between them is about as subtle as an atomic bomb, leading to a couple of moments where the lines being spoken stop the film cold. In addition, the minimal context given to the cause of the war may cause some confusion amongst the audience.

"In the Land of Blood and Honey" is a good, but not great directorial debut by Angleina Jolie. She brings to light an intriguing story that, while not perfect, is ultimately interesting enough to justify at least one viewing. Jolie's heart is in the right piece with this film and it will be interesting to see what her next directorial project will be.