In the Land of Blood and Honey (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

In the Land of Blood and Honey (2012)

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In America, we tend to have very short collective memories when it comes to global tragedies.  A friend of mine said she was going to be having a drink to take the edge off of a hard day, and when asked why she said it was because it was the first year anniversary of the tsunami which struck Japan.  I felt horrible because, even though I was only following the conversation, I completely forgot about the devastation and how easily I'm part of the collective.

Movies like In the Land of Blood and Honey make me grateful there are artists in the world who will never forget these moments.  They need to be documented and preserved, feelings of all shades put on display, and set into film until we're all part of the universal ash.  The focus here is on the Bosnian War, a conflict which, at the time, we were in the process of trying to forget as soon as it started.

Despite the ethnic cleansing on display, the film manages to be as austere and calm as many of the dramas its director, Angelina Jolie, has been in.  It's a very steady film, never lending itself to the intense emotion these events stir.  But if it has the strengths of the films Jolie has starred it, it shares many of their weaknesses.  A confusing, large-scale conflict is centered around one love story, painted in shades of art and Stockholm Syndrome.  Worse, it's dull, calling out the darkly ironic ending with the opening scenes and trudging dutifully onward to the conclusion.

I do not doubt Jolie's sincerity in wanting to try and educate about the war and its effects on the Bosnian population.  But it feels as though she has overextended her reach by functioning as both the director and the screenwriter.  Her hand is steady at the camera, and patiently watches as the women of Bosnia are raped and children executed.  I respect she did not overdramatize these moments as the violence and killing speak more than enough for themselves.  While there aren't any standout moments visually she knows how to compose a good looking shot, and keeps things flowing to the conclusion.

But we could have done without the romance.  She attempts to tell the story as a sort of extreme version of Romeo and Juliet's dalliance.  Danijel (Goran Kostic) and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) share a sweet date with each other, filled with wonderful music and dancing, before a bomb goes off and destroys the club.  The rest of the film struggles to return them to their pre-war bliss, always reminding us of the tensions because of his status as a Serb military commander and she as a Muslim.

I do not like films which show a war interrupting a romance.  It belittles what is going on in the war and underlines just how silly the melodramatic portions of the relationship are.  That said, Jolie never enters full-blown Pearl Harbor territory, but the romance is so weak to begin with we have to wonder a bit more about why they're struggling to keep it alive.  I like the suggestion that Ajla is merely an opportunist and using the relationship as a means of survival, but the sadness and sex escalate to such a degree that any interesting ideas are kept out of the limelight.

Story weaknesses aside, Jolie does capture a number of great small details.  I loved the opening scenes and she takes steps to fill the movie with as much local cultural music and art as possible.  Though I question her decision to film the movie in English because of all those details, all that work put into the background and the voices are still as familiar as ever.

Her leads give great performances, even though they're rooted in their fates more so than fleshed out as individuals.  Their lives are as simplified as the soundbites that reached our  shores, and we never get a sense they were thought of as people outside of the war.  This story needs fully realized people, not archetypes filling comfortable niches.

In the end, that storytelling comfort keeps the film from being any real challenge.  I didn't learn much more about the conflict going in the film as I did before.  The purpose may not have been to educate, but putting a simple face on such a complex situation was not the solution.  Jolie puts on an admirable face, but this is not medicine that needed to go down so smooth.

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In the Land of Blood and Honey (2012)

Written and directed by Angelina Jolie.
Starring Zana Marjanovic and Doran Kostic.

Posted by Andrew

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