By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
It's 1992 at the start of In the Land of Blood and Honey, and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) and Danijel (Goran Kostic) are about to hook up at a Bosnian nightclub when they're interrupted by a bomb blast. A few months later, Ajla is one of dozens of women rounded up and bused to a detention camp, where the all-female, all-Muslim prisoners are kept to satisfy Serbian male soldiers' apparently endless appetite for rape. Turns out Danijel is a commander at the camp, pressed into action by his dad (Rade Serbedzija), a general who is both seriously evil and tasked with explaining his side's political motivations for a Western audience. ("One million Serbs killed in World War II, and now they want us to live in a Muslim state?" he fumes — one of many times when the opening title's suggestion that the region's various ethnic groups "lived in harmony" before the Yugoslav Wars is exposed as a lie.)
Still infatuated with Ajla, Danijel "protects" her by not letting anyone else rape her. After she lets him fuck her in laughably stylized soft focus, he teaches her how to escape. Later, at a different camp, she allows herself to be kept as his "Muslim whore."
First-time director Angelina Jolie clearly aims to keep Ajla's allegiances ambiguous. Is she doing what she has to do to survive? Is she a spy? Would either necessarily preclude a romantic connection to her captor? Though Jolie spends much screen time trying to humanize Danijel to the point that we might believe Ajla could love him or that he could change, the relationship doesn't gestate enough for sincere romantic feelings on her end to seem plausible; the denouement that sorts it all out moves from predictable tragedy to ludicrous redemption.
The winter-light, handheld cinematography suggests at least someone on set has seen a recent Romanian movie, but closing titles confirm that Jolie's motivating intent in making Blood and Honey was activist rather than artistic. Throughout her career, Jolie has carefully constructed a persona as the anti-movie star, but in using her wealth and status to make a United Nations extra-credit project that pointedly criticizes the United States for not intervening earlier and more forcefully in a conflict now safely in history's rearview mirror, Jolie has produced a sanctimonious vanity commercial for her own good intentions. That's about as Hollywood as it gets.
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