Review: In the Land of Blood and Honey

Posted: January 20, 2012 in Film Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

A scene from In the Land of Blood and HoneyThere is an art to telling a story through film that goes beyond the technical elements. The key is to engage the audience and make them care about the characters. Despite the number of films writer/director Angelina Jolie has starred in, she does not appear to have absorbed the details of that lesson.

In the Land of Blood and Honey explores the three-year Bosnian war that was the deadliest in Europe since WWII. Just before the war in 1992, Danijel (Goran Kostic) and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) dance carefree in a local nightclub. Once the war begins, they are made swift enemies because he is a Serb and she is Muslim. However, they are reunited by circumstance and attempt to forget the atrocities occurring outside their seclusion by losing themselves in each other, if only briefly each day. As the war escalates, tensions between the forbidden lovers rises with it, threatening a devastating blow as it becomes clear sides must be chosen.

The secret to making history come alive is not simply playing out the facts, but expanding on the individual characters and providing a focus for the audience’s sympathy. The nightly news is filled with faceless victims that are regularly ignored or forgotten for any number of reasons. A movie is an opportunity to put names to those faces while exposing the truth and evoking an emotional response. However, it is impossible to truly care for these characters until the final third of the movie; and by then everything that’s preceded this moment has already drained most of the emotion from the viewer.

The narrative is a never-ending see-saw of good and bad events. It’s an exhausting pattern that makes it impossible to become engrossed in the story. The film opens with a message from Jolie, in which she says her movie will be difficult to watch but she hopes it will spark conversation because it’s important we don’t forget what took place in Bosnia. She then does a great job illustrating the terror inflicted on the Muslims by their former neighbours and friends. The ethnic cleansing that occurred is shown to be vicious and heartless. However, the majority of the victims remain nameless and, as an unfortunate result, less engaging. Watching this movie was akin to watching a moving slideshow of horror; an exercise in recreating history, rather than telling a story.

It should be made clear this is not a film about a woman who falls in love with her rapist, as early reports suggested; though he is technically her captor and blood enemy. Kostic and Marjanovic deliver outstanding performances, quietly and constantly expressing a host of incompatible emotions.  Their relationship is used as a doorway to the opposing sides of the war. Ajla is taken by force, terrorized by her jailers and forced to watch “her people” murdered at random regularly. Danijel represents the other side of the conflict, though he is not an example of its brutality. He secretly questions the war’s validity while surrounded mostly by men, including his high-ranking father, who take pride in their daily task of “clearing the city.”

Jolie set out to produce a fictional document of the Bosnian War, which she undoubtedly accomplishes. It just isn’t a very good film.

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