Angelina Jolie acquits herself admirably as writer/director in this controversial, cross-cultural love story set amidst the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s:
“I wanted to make a film that would express, in an artistic way, my frustrations with the international community’s failure to intervene in conflicts in a timely and effective manner. I also wanted to explore and understand the Bosnian War, as well as broader issues, such as women in conflict, sexual violence, accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the challenge of reconciliation. It was the deadliest war in Europe since W.W. II, but sometimes people forget the terrible violence that happened in our time, in our generation, to our generation.”
Danijel (Goran Kostic) is a blond, blue-eyed Bosian Serb policeman, serving under his brutish father, General Nebojsa Vukojevich (Rade Serbedzija), while dark-haired Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a Bosnian Muslim artist. Their romantic relationship is just blossoming before an explosion rocks the café in which they are dancing and violence erupts, separating them on opposite sides of the political conflict. While Danijel’s deeply conflicted, Ajla’s evicted from the apartment she shares with her sister, Lejla (Vanese Glodjo), and Lejla’s infant child – amid a barrage of vicious rapes and cold-blooded killings – and incarcerated in a military camp, where Danijel makes her his prisoner/mistress.
Within this “Romeo and Juliet”-inspired romance, Jolie fails to provide any depth of understanding about the reasons for the war, preferring, instead, to rely on Gen. Vukojevich’s self-justifying explanation that Serbs stood up to Hitler and prevented the Turks from conquering Europe centuries ago, and it’s now their responsibility to prevent the Muslims from taking over. Instead, Jolie chronicles in grim, grisly, graphic detail the horrors committed by Serbs against Muslim neighbors. English-language news broadcasts clarify what’s occurring, while the rest of the film is in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is a brutal 6, an impressively serious project from a humanitarian activist.