In the Land of Blood and Honey adorns the name "Angelina Jolie" across its marketing materials but don't expect to see the seraphic starlet pop up on screen. Jolie makes her directorial debut with the Bosnian war film a powerful drama that strives for realism in its use of homegrown talent the setting's native tongue and graphic depictions of violence. The goal of the movie is apparent: the genocide committed across the Balkan region in the early '90s was all but swept under the rug and Jolie is ready to unleash those horrific truths upon willing audiences. In the Land of Blood and Honey pulls no punches. The movie is terrifying and provocative telling a conventional love story only as a way of connecting with the mainstream. War is ugly and Jolie's film presents it truthfully.
Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) and Danijel (Goran Kostic) are two Bosnians in the beginnings of a relationship—one that is eventually cut short by the eruption of conflict. Danijel a Serb police officer is recruited by his militant leader father Nebojsa (Rade Serbedzija) to join the Serb Army whose goal is wipe the country clean of Bosnian Muslims. He's eventually reunited with Ajla after she's captured by the Serbs and incarcerated in a concentration camp. There she is subjected to mental and physical torture serving the Serbs as they return from systematically wiping out her people and routinely being the target of their sexual abuse. Before finding himself whisked away on reassignment Danijel clues Ajla into an escape route which sends the prisoner on a journey through the war-torn country in hopes of reuniting with her family and possibly Danijel.
While the Romeo and Juliet-esque romance between Danijel and Ajla adds to the weight of the situation it never feels like the focus of In the Land of Blood and Honey. Rather than developing the complexity of the duo Jolie uses her characters as emotional proxies which works as a window into the unimaginable events of the war. Marjanovic and Kostic deliver compelling performances as Danijel and Ajla–both characters struggle with what they're romantic actions with one another mean to their respective causes—but even with their thread the real drama comes from the world around them.
There's no safety filter on the gut-wrenching atrocities Jolie puts on display: lines of Bosnian Muslims stripped naked and executed women seized by the Serbs and used as human shields and hidden refugees sacrificing their own just to remain concealed. The film is shot simply but the images speak for themselves. At times the character/dialogue-driven moments feel more like necessary pit stops before the next harrowing sequence—even in introspective moments like a scene in which Danijel contemplates and resists sniping a nearby enemy—but without them the movie would lack the necessary truth of the final product.
In the Land of Blood and Honey is a complicated film one that doesn't entirely work as an act of storytelling but whose end goal is a grisly success. Jolie's commitment to history makes the film a brave work of art and a must-see. Blood and Honey will leave you shaken and it's an experience you owe yourself to have.
The actress and first-time director hand-picked the stars of her Bosnian War love story and many of the castmembers, including Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija, witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the 1990s conflict growing up in the region.
However, Jolie feared one of the earliest scenes in the movie, involving actor Ermin Sijamija sexually abusing a female, would cause friction between the stars as they all came from opposing sides of the ethnic battle.
She says, "The first scene we shot was when the women were pulled off the bus and things are ripped away from them and (one) woman is raped in front of the others. Many of the cast had known each other and came from different sides of the conflict so I was very nervous that this first day would cause more tension."
But Jolie had no reason to worry - because the actors behaved like gentlemen as soon as the emotionally-tough scene was over.
She continues, "The first scene we played it out and it was shocking and horrifying. As soon as I called 'cut', I noticed Ermin picked up the woman who he had to rape in the scene and gave her the biggest hug and made sure she was OK. All the other men picked up the clothes off the floor and redressed the women themselves and that was the beginning of how we would all treat each other on this film. It set the tone."
The actress and first-time director admits her stars Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic helped her with the sex scene, because they were willing to go further for the sake of the film.
She tells USA Today newspaper, "I believe it was Zana's first love scene and Goran is a family man with a wife and kids. You kind of suddenly feel this strange thing of asking people to participate in anything like that because they're not a real couple. You find out how strange this is to ask anybody to get naked together and put a camera on them.
"They actually made me more comfortable. I was being a lot more prudish. I would have allowed them to be more prudish and they told me it was all right and important for the story. They wanted to do what they wanted to do and they were comfortable."
But Jolie was still very careful to make sure the love scenes were shot carefully - because she has "felt misrepresented" in previous movies where she has stripped off.
She explains, "You feel, 'Why did they hold on to that and why did they feel they needed to do that?'"
And she admits she was mesmerised by her leading lady's body: "She has a very beautiful body that is very organic in that European sense. She is a real woman and a beautiful woman."
If there's one thing I learned from a recent pot luck dinner I hosted, an effort to mend the rift between the vampire and bear communities in my neighborhood, it's that blood and honey don't mix. But somehow, Angelina Jolie has found a means to deliver both to us in what seems like it just might be a pretty daring, captivating story. Jolie's directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is set in the war-ravaged Balkans, highlighting a star-crossed love story between a Serbian soldier (Goran Kostic) and his Bosnian captive (Zana Marjanovic).
Below, we can see the conceptual poster Jolie's film (I think a more honey-centric one would have been nicer, but that's just me...). We can also see Jolie in action as a director for the first time, and several of the Blood and Honey cast members.
Late last year, Angelina Jolie decided to follow in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Ben Affleck (can't believe I'm putting him in the same sentence as the first two, but that's showbiz!) and make the jump from actor to filmmaker. Her The Tourist producer Graham King decided he'd finance her then-untitled picture about a love story set during the Bosnian War, which Jolie also wrote. The Oscar winning actress descended upon Bosnia to shoot her film with local actors including Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija and now, according to King's company, has distribution.
GK Films made an announcement just now stating that he'd struck a deal with rising star FilmDistrict to release the picture, which is now titled In the Land of Blood and Honey. FilmDistrict has apparently been the most active company purchasing films at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and continues to make solid acquisitions as this buy so clearly represents. It will release the picture in the US on December 23rd.
"The former Yugoslavia has a rich history of dramatic arts. The cast was extraordinary. I was privileged and honored to work with them and I am very excited for everyone to see their immense talent," Jolie said in a statement. It will be interesting to see how talented she is behind the camera, because lord knows we could use more female directors in Hollywood.
Source: GK Films (via Coming Soon)