December 16, 2011 at 8:09 am #46342
Fun fact: Assuming this gets no Oscar nominations this year, Bosnia might be able to submit this for FL film next year!
New U.S. Release
In the Land of Blood and Honey
A ver es mez foldjen
By Justin Chang
Zana Marjanovic, left, stars in FilmDistrict release “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” set during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
OTHER RECENT REVIEWS:
Credits: A FilmDistrict release of a GK Films presentation and production. Produced by Angelina Jolie, Graham King, Tim Headington, Tim Moore. Executive producers, Holly Goline-Sadowski, Michael Vieira. Co-producer, Simon Crane. Directed, written by Angelina Jolie.
Ajla – Zana Marjanovic
Danijel – Goran Kostic
Nebojsa – Rade Serbedzija
Though sufficiently well made to suggest a viable career behind the camera for debutante writer-director Angelina Jolie, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” seems to spring less from artistic conviction than from an over-earnest humanitarian impulse. Centered around the sexually charged bond between two people on different sides of the Bosnian War, this alternately disturbing and titillating picture reps a dramatically misguided attempt to renew public awareness of the 1992-95 Balkan conflict. Jolie’s name and do-gooder cachet should lend the film a modest commercial profile, though its horrors-of-war hand-wringing will do little to challenge the apathy of the mainstream.
There have been a number of films made about Westerners caught up in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, including “Welcome to Sarajevo,” “Behind Enemy Lines” and “The Hunting Party.” Foregoing the customary narrative assist of an American or British outsider’s perspective, Jolie plunges directly into a local story filmed with actors from the former Yugoslavia speaking the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian language (an English-lingo version was also lensed for exhibition in other territories), a move that immediately signals the helmer’s seriousness and lends the film a measure of cultural authenticity.
Yet that credibility doesn’t extend to the particulars of the drama, which is too strenuously designed to make viewers cluck their tongues at the pointlessness and absurdity of any conflict along ethnic or religious lines. Opening titles inform us of how diverse Bosnia-Herzegovina used to be, with Muslims and Christians, Serbs and Croats coexisting peacefully before the outbreak of war in 1992, triggered by the republic’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.
Sudden twists of fate are the script’s chief structuring device. Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), an attractive Muslim artist living in Sarajevo, meets Serb cop Danijel (Goran Kostic) at a nightclub one evening, but their mutual attraction is waylaid by a bomb blast. Four months later, when the Yugoslav-backed Serb army occupies the city and begins a horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing, irony once more rears its head: Danijel, serving in the Serbian army, recognizes Ajla among the numerous prisoners, and saves her from being raped by another officer. (Another woman, we’re shown in unsparing closeup, isn’t so lucky.)
Over the following months, Danijel maintains an uneasily protective watch over Ajla, arranging private meetings in which she regards him with distrust and wary gratitude. Eventually Danijel installs her in her own private quarters where the two can make love and Ajla can paint in peace, away from the harassment and abuse of the other guards. This risky move arouses the suspicion of Gen. Nebojsa Vukojevich (Rade Serbedzija), who occasionally rationalizes his troops’ actions (and slips the audience a historical cheat sheet) with lines like, “This land is soaked in Serb blood.”
Another character more aptly pinpoints the film’s theme by announcing, “People are not often what you think them to be.” It’s a bid for sympathy on behalf of Danijel, who, one is meant to believe, is a sensitive guy deep down, despite having been thrust into a position of murderous authority by his domineering dad. At times Danijel seems a somewhat more benign version of Ralph Fiennes’ Nazi in “Schindler’s List,” testing the limits of his affection for his personal refugee/plaything while using the refugees scurrying below his window for target practice.
It would take an unusually sensitive touch to see the monster’s inner humanity while still decrying the barbarism, or to turn a cross-cultural love story into a moral argument, and Jolie isn’t quite there yet. At a certain point, the film almost seems to sense its scenario tilting into tarted-up banality and abruptly shifts gears, to shockingly blunt effect, yet the sudden pessimism feels as unearned as the earnest pleading.
The intimacy of Danijel and Ajla’s scenes together, mostly shot in a large, bare-walled room, lends the production (filmed in Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina) the feel of an arty chamber drama rather than a full-on war picture. The pic tries to counter this with occasional televised dispatches from the outside world (newsflash: the U.N. is useless), continual references to mostly offscreen atrocities and occasional scenes of large-scale battle and pursuit; these include an action-oriented subplot involving Ajla’s sister (Vanesa Glodjo) and a group of Muslim refugees. Jolie handles these logistically demanding scenes with grit and assurance, though there’s a sense of overcalculation to some of the more disturbing images: a bullet whizzing out of nowhere to meet its target, or a besieged house going up in flames.
Thesps are fine but a bit colorless, and Marjanovic and Kostic don’t seem entirely at home with their characters’ fairly risible dynamic; Serbedzija, the cast’s biggest name, also leaves its strongest impression. Gabriel Yared’s score is tasteful.December 16, 2011 at 11:53 am #46344
O yes Justin. Imagine someone with an ‘over-earnest humanitarian impulse”!
I prefer your review on 1911.
Way to go Angelina. Wear your heart on your sleeve.December 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm #46345
In the Land of Blood and Honey: Film Review
4:25 PM PST 12/16/2011 by Todd McCarthy
Dean Semler/GK Films
The Bottom Line
Few will want to watch the Serbian war atrocities Angelina Jolie capably puts onscreen in her directorial debut.
December 23 (Film District)
Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade Serbedzija, Vanesa Glodjo
Writer-director Angelina Jolie presents a blunt and brutal look at genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s.
It’s clear within the first few minutes of In the Land of Blood and Honey, a blunt and brutal look at genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s, that this is a serious piece of work and not simply a vanity project for its debuting writer-director, Angelina Jolie. But while the personal story at its core carries some nuanced shadings, this impressively mounted production gradually reveals itself first and foremost as a compendium of atrocities, a catalogue of pointless abuse and killings no one did much to stop for three years.
our editor recommends
Fueled by her well-known attachment to humanitarian causes, the director trains an intense light on a situation most outsiders at the time preferred not to deal with and now would rather forget about, which means that Jolie would literally have to lead people by the hand into theaters for this Film District release to do any theatrical business beyond the already committed.
Eight years ago Jolie starred in a film, Beyond Borders, in which she sashayed around global hot spots in elegant outfits like a fashion model on a shoot. Almost as if in atonement, Blood and Honey is nothing like that, quite the contrary, in fact, as it centers on the queasy relationship between a captor, a Serbian army officer responsible for rounding up Muslims or otherwise making them disappear in Bosnia, and a female prisoner, a woman he was interested in prior to the war and is now able to exploit, but also protect, as his “personal property.”
A raucous opening scene in a dance hall suggests that blond, thirtysomething Danijel (Goran Kostic) is quite keen on dark-haired Aja (Zana Marjanovic), but that nothing has happened between them yet. Maybe it will this very night until, bang, the place is blown up. Four months later, unidentified troops charge into an apartment complex, separate the men out to be shot and herd the younger women onto a bus to be taken away to a place where they’re all stuffed into a cramped room. One of them is raped in front of the others and Aja is next in line until Danijel steps in a spares her.
Audiences unversed in the politics of the era will scarcely know what to make of all this until Danijel’s tough father Nebojsa (Rade Serbedzija), a senior Serbian officer who’s seen it all, helpfully explains things. It was the Serbs, he self-justifyingly points out, who prevented the Turks from conquering Europe centuries ago and more recently stood up to Hitler; now, in 1992, it’s their responsibility to turn out the Muslims before they take over.
It’s easy to see that the crusty old bird suspects that his son may not be made of stern enough stuff to do what it takes. Conversely, Danijel knows he has something to prove, so even though he doesn’t like the idea of killing people he grew up and went to school with, he gets on with the job. The men under his command show no such compunction, blowing up a Red Cross ambulance with as bazooka and picking off Muslims at every opportunity.
Under Danijel’s protection, Aja doesn’t have to worry nearly so much as the other women do about being randomly assaulted or murdered on a whim. It’s inevitable she’ll sooner or later have to submit to her subjugator, who’s generally civil to her but at a moment’s notice could throw her to the wolves if so motivated. But when she relents, he reciprocates by not only telling her she’s got to run away but how she can escape.
At this point, as Danijel’s responsibilities become more heinous and the action moves to Sarajevo in 1993, the barbarism is ratcheted up: Women are used as human shields, anyone darting through the streets is fair game for target practice, mutual suspicion and blame mount on all fronts and death becomes a way of life, to the point where all the characters have become numb and the viewer may have had enough, having long since gotten the point. Good drama has you anxious to know what’s going to happen next; In the Land of Blood and Honey has you dreading to learn what atrocity awaits around the next corner.
It’s no surprise, then, that nothing good comes of anything, at least until 1995, when United Nations choppers finally materialize in the skies above the ruins. The film’s final line comes across as both quietly dramatic and highly unlikely.
Jolie deserves significant credit for creating such a powerfully oppressive atmosphere and staging the ghastly events so credibly, even if it is these very strengths that will make people not want to watch what’s onscreen. All the director’s decisions were taken in the interest of heightened verisimilitude, from working in the Bosnian language (an English-language version is available as well) to using as many authentic locations as possible (some in Bosnia, others in Hungary) and having cinematographer Dean Semler employ a combat-ready style.
The production was protested and kicked out of Sarajevo due to charges that the Serbs were uniquely being singled out for abuse; while some of the original detractors have withdrawn their criticisms, others have sprung up, and it would be surprising if such squabbles did not continue, regardless of accuracy.
Gabriel Yared‘s very effective score blends in some regional influences while working toward a low-key haunted feel.
Providing most of the film’s nuance and subtlety is Marganovic, who keeps obvious emotions in check but closely registers the most minute changes in Danijel’s attitudes and the temperature of conditions around her. Much as he might prefer it, Kostic’s equivocal Danijel can’t get away with being “the good Serb,” under such scrutiny is he from his father and the trigger-happy men under his command.
The title stems from the fact that, in reference to the Balkans, the Turkish word for honey is “bal” while the word for blood is “kan.”December 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm #46346
Fun fact: Assuming this gets no Oscar nominations this year, Bosnia might be able to submit this for FL film next year!
I doubt Bosnia would be able to qualify it as its own film. Joshua Marston (he directed Maria Full of Grace) tried to summit The Forgivenss of Blood as the Albanian entry but was ultimately disqualified because of American artistic input in the film. Not sure how much American input is In the Land of Blood and Honey, but guessing from the American director and producers, that would be pretty significant to disqualify it as a possible entry.December 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm #46347
It was the Albanians, not the Academy, that changed the submission. There was no indication that it would have been disqualified. It was a leading filmmaker – actually the director of the film that was submitted instead – that raised the objection internally.
This one might be a bit dicier, but it clearly is in a foreign language and has significant Bosnian creative participants.December 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm #46348
Here’s the Variety article.
Albania’s choice for foreign-language Oscar race, American director Joshua Marston’s “The Forgiveness of Blood,” has been disqualified after the Academy decided it did not have enough local input.
Marston’s film, shot on location in the Balkans country with a largely local crew and creative team, is about the modern impact of the country’s tradition of blood feuds.
With a Berlinale Silver Bear-award winning script that was co-written by an Albanian and dialogue that is all Albanian, the film was nominated late September after the Albanian Oscar committee checked that it met Academy Award criteria.
But after the director of “Amnesty,” one of three other local films that failed to make the cut, complained, the Academy revisited the issue last week and decided to disqualify “Blood.”
Bujar Alimani had written a formal letter of complaint to the Albanian National Center of Cinematography demanding that Marston’s film be disqualified on that grounds that it was a mainly American production.
That appears to have found a target in Los Angeles, where an Academy Awards committee is understood to have reviewed the decision and disqualified Marston’s film last week on the grounds that it failed to meet local crew composition criteria.
At a meeting Friday in Tirana, Albanian Oscar selectors that included all but one of the committee that had originally picked Marston’s film, took another vote and “Amnesty” was officially selected as the country’s nomination for foreign-lingo film.
The committee consisted of film industry professionals, Esat Musliu, Bujar Lako, Durim Neziri, and Agron Tufa but not writer Teodor Laco.
“The one board members who was most outspoken for ‘The Forgiveness of Blood,’ writer Teodor Laco, didn’t attend the meeting for personal reasons,” a film industry source in Tirana told Variety on Sunday.
The decision in L.A. to overrule the earlier nomination was not well received by some in Tirana.
Artan Minarolli, head of the ANCC, told Variety: “The board in Albania voted for ‘Forgiveness of Blood’ for some [particular] reasons. The most important are: The film is 100% in Albanian Language. The story and the support of Albania, too, is strong in this film. The producer is Albanian and one of the major producers here. He and the director spent a long time in Albania before the shooting and developed the script and the project in close relationship with Albanian and technical people.”
Minarolli added that he had tried to explain to the Academy committee in Los Angeles that because Albania has a small film industry it is inevitably closely connected with foreign professionals and all local films involve the participation of foreign creative talent and crew.
“It is a cosmopolitan cinema that tries to survives through cultural exchange. In the past Albania was totally isolated; today we try to find reality in cinema and to make up for the time we lost over the past 50 years. The Academy needs to understand this.”
However, Alimani, director of “Amnesty” welcomed the decision.
He told Variety that the original decision had been in “violation of the rules of the Academy itself; my protest was not for personal purposes, but because I feel that Albania has cinematographers who can be represented at a world level; selecting my film ‘Amnesty’ as the official Albanian nomination gives hope to young moviemakers in Albania and honors the work of all my staff.”
Marston, who learned Albanian during the making of his film, “The Forgiveness of Blood,” said: “It’s disappointing, to be sure. There was so much Albanian creative involvement in the making of the film. For the Academy to focus only on six key crew positions as the barometer of its Albanian-ness, to me, is sad.”
He added: “The film [‘The Forgiveness of Blood’] is made by Albanians, in Albania, about Albania and in the Albanian language. And yet a great film like Kaurismaki’s ‘Le Havre,’ which was shot in France with a French cast and a French story, qualifies as Finnish? And ‘As If I Am Not There,’ which was shot in the Balkans and is in Serbo-Croat with a cast from that region, qualifies as Irish? It’s absurd.
“I think there’s a problem with the system when Hollywood claims to know better than the submitting country whether a film belongs to them. It is incredibly disempowering and disenchanting for a country with a young film industry.”December 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm #46349
Thanks for catching that Novic – I had heard about the original protest coming from within Albania, and had thought that was where the decision was made.
Usually the challenge comes from (unnamed) US distributors who want to knock a film out of the running, not from within the submitting country.