“I’m nervous,” Angelina Jolie said in a small voice. “I’ve never been nervous about a film.”
This film is different.
“In the Land of Blood and Honey,” a searing fictional account of life during the Bosnian War of the 1990s, is Jolie’s directorial debut. It is a hard movie to watch.
“It should be, because war is horrible,” Jolie told us during a recent phone interview. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe award in the foreign language category; “A Separation,” about Iran, won in that category.
Jolie and her partner Brad Pitt struck a glamorous pose on the Golden Globes red carpet but didn’t stick around long after the event ended. She told Hollywood Life they aimed to get home early to their kids.
For our interview and no doubt others she has conducted promoting “Blood and Honey,” personal questions were off-limits.
“It’s been really nice” not to be asked about the subjects that would delight a tabloid-magazine audience, Jolie said. “At the end of the day we do have a responsibility to educate ourselves. I just hope people feel and want to learn. I really care about this part of the world and these people. Hopefully, artistically I won’t disappoint them.”
The film’s two main characters are Danijel (Goran Kostić), a Bosnian Serb police officer, and Ajla (Zana Marjanović), a Bosnian Muslim artist, shown at left in this movie still. Before the conflict erupts they’re depicted as a casually dating couple who enjoy music and dancing. After brutal ethnic cleansing sweeps through Sarajevo, they meet again. This time Danijel is commanding a camp where Ajla and dozens of other women are held captive and raped regularly by soldiers.
“I was born in Sarajevo and was only 8 years old during the war,” Marjanović said in a statement released by the studio. “My father chose to stay in Sarajevo. The war came as a huge surprise, and no one thought the war would last as long as it did.”
Work on the movie began with one of the most violent scenes, in which women who have been seized at gunpoint from their homes have been transported to a prisoner camp.
“The first day we did the scene where the men pull the women off the bus and the rape scene,” Jolie said. “It was really hard. I didn’t know if that morning was going to be volatile. I didn’t know if people were going to fight.”
Instead, action in between takes was inspiring. The actors who played soldiers picked up the actresses who played their captives, comforting them and brushing snow off their clothes.
“It was really beautiful,” Jolie said.
An Academy Award winner and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who balances an acting career and parenthood with global humanitarian work, Jolie stayed behind the camera for this project. The “Blood and Honey” cast members are actors from the region, and their memories of life during the struggle informed the movie.
“Cast members were showing pictures from before the war. One cast member showed me where she used to ski; then it became a snipers’ ridge,” Jolie said. “All the actors remembered that was their last happy moment.”
War in the former Yugoslavia followed the collapse of Communism and raged from 1992 to 1995, when NATO intervention finally stopped the fighting. The conflict claimed more than 100,000 and displaced more than 2 million people.
Jolie uses a number of expository scenes to refresh viewers’ memories about the Bosnian War. A conversation between Danijel and his father, Gen. Nebojsa Vukojevich (Rade Šerbedžija), feels like a history lesson as the older man recounts the centuries of strife that have plagued the region. Later, when Vukojevich encounters Ajla, he shares the story of his mother’s own murder at the hands of Muslim forces a generation ago.
“Instead of pointing fingers, we have to understand what went wrong to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Jolie said. “I tried to write something I thought was balanced and didn’t try to lay judgment. It’s not a documentary. It’s not a political statement. It’s a dramatic film that deals with human beings.”
It’s not yet clear when the movie will be screened in Atlanta. It depicts graphic violence and the physical and emotional scars left by war, but it is not entirely bleak. The redemptive power of creative expression emerges as a theme among the rubble.
“It is symbolic that Alya was an artist. Art to these people is part of their lifelife,” Jolie said. “The message is we’re still creating, we’re still human.”
- Jennifer Brett/The Buzzfirstname.lastname@example.org