“I don’t need to see things like this,” a disgruntled viewer was overheard commenting in the lobby after the screening of Angelina Jolie’s “In The Land of Blood and Honey.” Well disgruntled audience member, Jolie is strictly writer and director of this Bosnian language-English Subtitled film about the horrors of the Balkan conflict in the early 1990s. “Horrors” is not an overstatement and yet feels in many ways to be an understatement. Yet, finger-wagging that Jolie’s gone overboard in unnecessarily attempting to bludgeon the viewer with grueling defilement can be interpreted as a turning away from the portrayed brutality of ritualistic rape camps and the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians by Serbian soldiers. To do so is to closely mirror the behavior of the international community of nations in their too slow reaction to war crimes that saw 10,000 dead and as many as 50,000 women raped. (So there)
Granted, war is hell and this film depicts a particularly wretched hell of human extermination and degradation that may very well disturb our lady in the lobby and many other viewers. Some would have you believe Jolie breaks her neck to exaggerate, that she’s somehow the dupe of her convictions. Yet she gives the film a human center and those who want to have an idea about a war that many Americans had no clue about even as it was happening would do well to brace for a film that’s a brave and often well-crafted eye-opener.
Danijel, Serbian police officer and Ajla, a Muslim artist, meet in a nightclub and connect just before a bomb goes off, then are reacquainted after she, along with many other Muslim women, are rounded up and thrown in a camp. Now a Captain in the Serb army, he comes to offer her more and more protection from a situation where, when the women aren’t summarily raped, they are used as human shields in battle. Is he a compassionate captor or merely an exploitative player? Does their relationship, rooted in its prior history, transcend fierce ethnic loyalties? (His is transfixed since childhood since he grew up with a lout of an Army general for a father…Hers was an upbringing with a transculturally progressive slant). As Daniels risks the scorn of his father and fellow soldiers he is drawn deeper into a moral quandry. The film’s unexpected finale intensifies its earlier questions rather than giving any easy out.
Everything is relative in this world, especially the ratio of compromise to survival. What kind of love can occur between prisoner and captor that isn’t finally a victim of the surrounding madness of an inhuman war?
Angelina’s done pretty good here. What keeps In The Land of Blood and Honey from the first rank of films is a somewhat lack of cohesiveness that is more than made up for by its ability to rarely become unhinged in expressing a repugnant terror with hardly a false note. As to whether you “need to see things like this”—yeah you should.
8 shameful holocausts (out of 10)