Actress Angelina Jolie writes and directs the upsetting story of a Bosnian woman who survives the Balkan conflict without the backup of stunt women, unlike Jolie’s doubles in such action-adventures as “Salt,” “Wanted,” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” “In the Land of Blood and Honey” recalls Michael Winterbottom’s “A Mighty Heart,” where Jolie played the wife of a real-life journalist decapitated by terrorists in Pakistan, and “Beyond Borders,” where she played a fictional do-gooder in Cambodian and Chechnyan conflicts. Rated R by the MPAA “for war violence and atrocities including rape, sexuality, nudity and language,” “Blood and Honey” lacks the power of the former, and the glamor of the latter. Jolie casts Zana Marjanovic as Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim painter. In the opening scene, she puts down her brush and goes out to a club. She’s slow-dancing with Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Bosnian Serb policeman, when a bomb goes off. Nationalist and religious conflicts erupt in brutal detail. Serbs victimize Muslims. (A making-of documentary about the local casting and off-camera exchanges of extras might outdo Jolie’s debut drama.) The son of a genocidal general, Danijel leads army forces who shoot and rape civilians. He protects Ajla by detaining her in his officer’s quarters and ordering her to serve as his official portraitist. On a candle-lit date in an unguarded art museum, permission is given to touch a painting. Greater prohibitions are transgressed with impunity. Jolie advocates military remedies to redress the historical crimes she depicts: “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.” The love story between Danijel and Ajla is aptly drab. Its resolution is duly tragic. With Rade Serbedzija, Vanesa Glodjo, Branko Djuric, Dzana Pinjo, Nikola Djuricko. 127m. (Bill Stamets)
“In the Land of Blood and Honey” opens Friday at River East.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.