Say what you will about Angelina Jolie. The multi-hyphenate, multi-tasking actor/UN goodwill ambassador/Mother of United Colours of Benetton children has probably done more than all of you common, sad-sack mortals could ever hope to achieve in your entire lifespan. And this is adding writing and directing skills to her mega-busy CV (you start wondering how in the hell this woman sleeps) with this Balkan war drama In The Land of Blood and Honey. Now, unlike many actors-turned-directors who dabble into filmmaking out of mere whimsy or worse narcissism, Jolie daringly takes on the foreign film market in an entirely different language along with a cast of unknowns and a complex enough topic to make your head spin – the anomalous breakdown of Yugoslavia. Critics who dismiss this as ‘self-indulgent’ or ‘self-promotion’ for Jolie’s public work have been reading far too many tabloids, and have completely ignored the fact that the woman has made a genuine, solid film with a humanitarian purpose and not another vacuous Hollywood vanity project. Compared next to Jodie Foster (who churned out Home for the Holidays and The Beaver) and Sarah Polley (Away From Her), Blood and Honey is no Hallmark Channel schmaltz-fest.
This is a tough, blood-and-guts political indictment to the Western indifference towards the Balkans conflict that committed ‘the worst genocide in Europe since World War II’, reinstating the horrors of the region into public consciousness once again. If anything, once you’ve seen this, you’ll end up admiring Jolie’s steely determination in making this film worth making. If there’s any major gripe, it’s Jolie treading familiarity – she puts a war-torn romance at the centre of this uncompromisingly harrowing film, she a Bosnian Muslim and he a Serbian Christian, as the tentative lovers tread political, racial and ideological landmines. It’s something like Romeo & Juliet with the rough-hewn aesthetics of Roman Polanski’s The Pianist or even Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. It scarcely breaks new ground, but where credits are due, Jolie cuts short any sentimentality and neither does she soft-pedal the film’s central issue. Watch the film’s opener, a beautiful rendezvous suddenly explodes into sheer chaos, a sequence so superbly mounted, you’d be forgiven to think it comes from that woman in the godawful Tomb Raider. It’s in Jolie’s thoughtful yet hard-hitting approach where Blood and Honey succeeds as a reminder of a largely forgotten war, ignored by the rest of the world and yet inflicted devastating results to the nations directly involved.
Take away Angelina Jolie’s marquee name and we have a harrowing, visceral and unsentimental look into the Bosnian War that could have been directed by an established European director. With a stature as hers, she could have made anything straight out of from Vanityville, but instead she opts for this gritty political war drama and Jolie deserves all the credit for it.