Poor Angelina Jolie. Before you can sit down and examine the film that marks her debut as a director – a love-hate story set during the 1990s Bosnian War – you must deal with the bricks being thrown at her. During shooting, the Bosnian Women Victims of War Association protested – as well it might – the idea of a film about a Bosnian woman who falls in love with her Serbian rapist. In the Land of Blood and Honey is not that film. Serbian commander Danijel (Goran Kostić) had already been involved with the Muslim Ajla (Zana Marjanović) before the war started. Their affair continues in the camp that Danijel oversees. I can't speak to the copyright-infringement suit brought against Jolie by Croatian author James J. Braddock. But I do know that Jolie does not use the brutal rape camps as a background for forbidden romance. In the Land of Blood and Honey wants to lay the truth out there, about the women assaulted and the men slaughtered. What we see of America is mostly the blind eye it shows to the atrocities. To quote then-Secretary of State James Baker, "We got no dog in this fight." Well, Jolie is at war with that kind of indifference. At times, Jolie rises to the pulpit when she should stay on the ground. Her theme is too complex for her scattered screenplay to encompass. It's as a director that Jolie shines. She gets strong, stinging performances from Kostić and Marjanović. The sexual power plays between their characters barely mask a blood feud that spans the ages. Jolie has a keen eye for the core of a scene and a true director's instinct for the pulse that defines character. Her live-wire movie is out to shake us. That it does.
Dean Semler/©FilmDistrict/courtesy Everett Collection