IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (Angelina Jolie, 2011)

The Bosnian War that resulted in the 1990s from the dissolution of the Marxist Yugoslavia whose iron-clad unity had kept at bay historical ethnic disputes and contentiousness: this provides the background for actress Angelina Jolie’s maiden effort as writer-director, the U.S. film In the Land of Blood and Honey. A bold exploration of the tangled motives and mutual suspiciousness of two romantically involved Serbs, a Muslim painter and the occupying Orthodox Christian army officer who becomes her protector in a prison camp, the film, originally shot in Serbian and Bosnian (an English-language version now exists on DVD), benefits from the absence in the cast of Jolie, a dependably dreadful actress. She proves herself, however, a fine filmmaker. Jolie has dedicated the film to the women victims of war.

It is not the case, as some have claimed, that Jolie has cheapened her material with excessive melodrama. Nearly every aspect of the film, including its gripping portrayal of the sickening policy of “ethnic cleansing” that sought the eradication of Muslim Serbian males, convinces; background and foreground are meshed into a taut yet breathing fabric. This isn’t a flung-together load of shit like Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993), which can fairly be condemned for cheapening its similar material, relating to the Holocaust, with bug-eyed melodrama. Nor is it a fake Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming et al., 1939), where the American Civil War background and romantic soap opera, clumsily cobbled together, constantly threaten to separate out despite the character symbolisms—for instance, Scarlett as the indomitable spirit of the South—that desperately try to tether these. Jolie may have learned real lessons from a consideration of such past Hollywood trash.

Most impressive, perhaps, is the lethal friction that results from the concentric circles of the officer’s relationships with the Muslim and his overbearing father, who is also his commanding officer. The implication that war is a patriarchal enterprise infuses the material with a blast of intriguing intelligence.

Jolie’s use of an interior long-shot to record the Muslim woman’s violent end shimmers with tact and sensitivity—qualities that her acting has never reflected. One ardently hopes that Jolie will continue to make films.

She should not be discouraged by her film’s current low rating of 4.3 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database, the conspiratorial result of ridiculous mass denial of Serbian ethnic cleansing. Jolie should not let anything discourage her exceptional talent.

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