In The Land Of Blood and Honey is a film about what happens to people in a time of war.
It's a story about physical and emotional survival. Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, In The Land Of Blood and Honey is a hard-hitting look at the realities of conflict, which most certainly cover rape, murder, pillage and all the other exigencies of war that have been so carefully withheld from public view for the last 30-odd years.
Jolie tells her tale through the specifics of a single relationship. It's 1992, the year Bosnia declares independence and the year that ethnic cleansing begins. An artist named Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) gets ready to go on a date with someone she has obviously just met. Danijel (Goran Kostic) takes her dancing. Their chemistry is obvious, but their evening is interrupted by violence, and after that the story jumps forward a few months.
In that brief time, things have obviously changed for the worse. Ajla and her sister, who are Bosniak Muslims, are wakened by the sound of soldiers putting people out of their apartment block. The men are removed. Some of the women are selected to be taken away on buses. Ajla, who is one of those women, sees a man shot dead in the street. She ends up in a prison camp where it appears to be a given that women will be raped by the soldiers in charge. This all unfolds in a fashion just as surreal as it sounds.
And lo and behold, there at the camp is her friend Danijel, who is a Serbian officer. He removes her from immediate danger and speaks to her in a familiar way, happy to see her and a bit oblivious to her situation. Danijel confides to her that he isn't happy about having to shoot people he went to school with. Ajla is horrified, but is eventually drawn into a relationship of sorts with Danijel for her own survival. It's far more complicated than that, but let's just say that each has genuine emotion invested in being together. He can protect her in some ways. She can protect him in others.
Running parallel to Ajla's experiences in the camp are her sister's attempts to fend for herself and her infant son back at the apartment block. Her sister's existence plays out against a backdrop of complete urban ruin: the city where they live is a bombed-out shell, and anyone who ventures out into the street is likely to be shot by soldiers. The element of the surreal is emphasized again when a resistance fighter in the midst of chaos and bloodshed talks about getting food supplies and aid from Italy -- where, 40 minutes from Sarajevo, tourists are enjoying themselves and people are getting a bit of sun.
As history, as storytelling and as human drama, In The Land Of Blood and Honey is an impressive project. Jolie has a number of things on her side here, including a superb cast that is mostly unknown to western viewers -- always a boon to the willing suspension of disbelief.
And it doesn't hurt that her cinematographer, Dean Semler, brings a painterly beauty to the look of the film that quietly underlines the horror of its events. The film is visually stunning. This is an unusually intelligent and courageous, albeit deeply disturbing, project.
In The Land Of Blood and Honey is in Serbo-Croatian, with English subtitles.