LITTLE ROCK — Feeling isn’t enough.
Really, all you slam poets and would-be writers, please listen to me: It simply is not enough to feel and care deeply about your subject. You also must shape that emotive content into something coherent or at least interesting, that adheres to its own logic (however dreamy it may be) and finally connects with your intended audience. Otherwise, you are engaging in self-therapy - or self-pleasure - rather than working as an artist.
I mean this in the spirit of love- Angelina Jolie has tried very hard to communicate to us how difficult it sometimes is to live as a moral being in a world that admits atrocity. With In the Land of Blood and Honey, she attempts to educate Americans about the internecine Bosnia war that occurred after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s - a war about which most Americans probably need to be educated.
I don’t question her motives, her humanitarian impulse or her commitment of her blood and treasure to her cause. But In the Land of Blood and Honey is a bright sophomore’s attempt at didactic fiction. It is derivative - most clearly of German writer-director Hans-Christian Schmid’s superlative 2009 film Storm - and, at uncomfortable times, risible. Had it been attempted by anyone other than an A list celebrity, it would never have been made - or at least not presented on the present scale.
It has, at the very least, substantial problems with its script. While I am sure that romances such as the one depicted in this movie do occur, the movie is unconvincing.What happens on the screen seems impossible, despite a good many things the actors and technical people do very well. Even the good choices Jolie makes, such as her insistence in casting actors unknown to U.S. audiences and having them say their lines in their native Serbo-Croatian, are undone by the terrible love story at the movie’s core.
It is the story of a Muslim woman named Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) and Danijel (Goran Kostic), a captain in the Serbian army. At the film’s onset, they go on a date to a nightclub, where a bomb explodes. Later, Serbian soldiers arrive at the apartment complex where Ajla lives and take her and several other women off to an internment camp, where they are to cook for and serve as sex slaves for the soldiers. As it happens, Danijel is the reluctant commander of this camp- he’d prefer not to be a raping monster but he’s afraid of his father, an imperious and brutal general (played by Rade Serbedzija, likely the only member of the cast whose face will be familiar to U.S. audiences).
Danijel saves Ajla from a brutal induction procedure by pretending to rape her, then orders his soldiers not to touch her because he has claimed her as his. But he can only offer her so much protection. Soon he arranges that they meet in his apartment every day. Sometimes they have consensual sex. Sometimes they argue. Sometimes he suggests she escape. Sometimes he rapes her. Sometimes the situation begins to resemble a late night Cinemax version of Last Tango in Paris.
Never once does she slit the murdering punk’s throat. Because, she loves him! Why? I don’t know. Stockholm syndrome?
Still, Jolie’s direction is occasionally powerful - an early sequence where a massacre takes place off screen is handled in especially deft manner - but either her taste (or her faith in the audience) is shaky. She ruins a powerful shot of a mother mourning a murdered infant with a gratuitous close-up.
In the Land of Blood and Honey is not incompetently made, and it suggests that Jolie might have a real shot at someday being a very good director. But it leaves us with a feeling so queasy and uncomfortable one hesitates to give it voice: Could she really think this dynamic is sexy?
In the Land of Blood and Honey 79 Cast: Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade Serbedzija Director: Angelina Jolie Rating: R, for war violence and atrocities including rape, sex, nudity and language Running time: 147 minutes In Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles.