Movie Review: “In the Land of Blood and Honey”

Written by Melissa MacAulay February 27, 2012

A decent directorial debut from Angelina Jolie…

My boyfriend was initially hesitant to see this film with me, knowing that a.) it is written and directed by Angelina Jolie, who he forever associates with cheesy Hollywood action flicks, b.) it appears predominantly to be a love-story, and c.) it has the word “honey” in the title. Luckily for me, In the Land of Blood and Honey happens to be a war film, and also has the word “blood” in the title, which was enough for me to convince him to give it a chance. The film was, as you might expect, one about both love and war. While far from perfect, the film did manage to somewhat succeed my own – and my boyfriend’s – expectations.

Given its subject matter, it would be simply embarrassing if this film were not able to evoke a significant emotional response from its audience. Set in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s, the film depicts the horror of the Bosnian War, featuring highly disturbing scenes of rape, murder, infanticide, slavery, and the kind of intense hatred that is so central to ethnic cleansing. Consequently, this film is capable of stirring something deep within even the most hardened film critic, regardless of any technical or cinematic considerations. This is particularly true for those of us in those parts of Canada that received thousands upon thousands of Bosnian refugees during the years of the Bosnian War.

The film begins with the bourgeoning courtship of Danijel (Goran Kostić) and Ajla (Zana Marjanović). Ajla is a painter who lives with her sister, Lejla (Vanessa Glodjo), and Lejla’s infant son, while Danijel is a policeman whose father is a powerful army official. This courtship is abruptly cut off by the beginnings of the Bosnian War, for which the front line is drawn squarely between the Danijel and Ajla. Sadly, the two are only reunited in a prisoner of war camp in which Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim woman, is being held captive by Bosnian Serb soliders, of which Danijel is one.

The film reveals the horrible conditions under which Muslim women such as Ajla were forced to live, serving as slaves and concubines for the Serb soldiers. The women of the camp clutch onto one another for support as they struggle to maintain their will to live. Fortunately for Ajla, Danijel is secretly uncomfortable with the war, and with the actions of his fellow comrades, and so takes her under his protection. The remainder of the film follows Danijel and Ajla as their relationship develops under such horrific circumstances, and as they struggle to decipher who their true enemies are.

As if these circumstances weren’t enough to thwart the course of this relationship, Danijel is also under the close scrutiny of his Muslim-hating father, for whom the righteousness of the war is unquestionable. Danijel is torn between his love for Ajla on one hand, and his reputation, self-preservation, and respect for his father on the other. Attempting to protect Ajla from his own men, Danijel is also painfully aware that this special treatment may ultimately endanger both of their lives.

Ajla, however, is torn between her love for Danijel on one hand, and the immense guilt she feels for sharing a bed with the enemy on the other. Not knowing whether her sister and nephew are dead or alive, Ajla grapples with the opportunities she has been given: should she attempt escape, and live in fear in the streets? Should she remain in solidarity with her fellow prisoners? Or, should she continue to live under the safeguard of her captor-cum-lover?

Although the film is thus built upon what I take to be quite promising premises, the strength of the plotline wavers throughout. Although the writing can be obvious and somewhat contrived at times, the thought-processes behind the actions of the characters remain unclear in many cases. Not wanting to give away essential pieces of the story, I’ll simply say that the ending of the film left me confused on a number of details — and I don’t mean in any nice interpret-it-as-you-will kind of way.

In the Land of Blood and Honey was apparently shot in two versions – one in English and the other in Bosnian (with subtitles). Having seen the Bosnian version, I can only imagine that watching the characters’ intimate conversations in English with strong Bosnian accents would have been truly irritating and cheapening. Go see the non-English version; subtitles are a small price to pay for authenticity, after all.

Although the film is not perfect, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who wouldn’t be affected by it in some significant way. I commend Jolie for quite a decent debut into directing, and also for raising awareness of issues that continue to be relevant two decades after the Bosnian war. It’s plausible to think that, the more the average person becomes aware of the incredible hardships faced by others in this world, the less likely they are to repeat themselves.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Melissa MacAulay

Melissa is a PhD student in philosophy. When she is not busy publishing wildly successful books and making earth-shattering contributions to her field, she enjoys travelling, eating chocolate, playing with pugs, and writing film reviews.

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