Raw, emotional and often tough to take, In the Land of Blood and Honey is a romantic drama about the tragedy of ethnic cleansing that occurred during the Bosnian War and the love story that suffered in its wake.
You might not know much about the Bosnian War, a civil conflict among disagreeing parties in a torn nation from 1992-1995. I wouldn't have known a thing about it either, if I hadn't started my career as a journalist as a junior photo editor in world news shortly after this conflict came to an official end.
For months following the aftermath, I watched daily video footage of the horrors that writer/director Angelina Jolie would most undoubtedly have to include in her retelling of this tragic event -- dead babies, rape, murder and destruction beyond belief.
So it was with much hesitation that I entered the theater to see the actress' first attempt to write and direct a feature-length film, In the Land of Blood and Honey.
Lovers torn apart by war
The story centers on Ajla (played by Zana Marjanovic), a Muslim woman who is taken captive by her lover, a Serbian officer named Danijel (played by Goran Kostic). He is forced to keep her prisoner by the politics of a war that pit these two citizens against each other.
Ajla is taken captive early in the war, and the film follows her relationship with Danijel as she struggles to stay alive. He struggles to protect her as best he can without his fellow soldiers discovering that he loves her. To love a Muslim when you're a Serbian officer, the audience soon finds out, is more than just a crime: It's a betrayal of your ancestors and your race.
The film stars local actors, who by Hollywood standards are basically unknown. The performances are so authentic, however, you'll forget you're watching a fictional love story set in this real world conflict.
At first, there is a sense of relief in knowing that Ajla has ended up in this prison camp run by Danijel. It seems this would be the best fate for her, but as the story continues, it becomes clear that an emotional prison can be far worse than any physical one.
Jolie asks several questions of war and combat, some we've heard before. Is it right to kill if the order comes from your government? Is it right to hate your neighbor if he or she takes away your land? Is it right to torture the enemy? Other questions we haven't heard, like is it worse to be a woman who is raped or a man who is expected to do the raping?
Needless to say, I couldn't sit through this film. I had seen the raw footage of the results of what happened to these women once taken to these prison camps, and it scared the life out of me. But to have the situation dramatized in a way that made their stories personal, only forced a stronger emotional response out of me than I knew how to handle. That said, if there's one woman who can confront movie-goers with the inhumanities of our world, it's Angelina Jolie.
Not afraid to show you what you don't want to see
Known for her strong opinions on human rights, the actress has shown us her sympathetic side in movies like Changeling and A Mighty Heart, but she also knows how to compete with the big dogs in making blockbuster hits like Salt and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Whether you're team-Jolie or not, this 36-year-old actress is definitely a force.
Shot in a stark, affective style, writer/director Angelina Jolie's heartbreaking love story about a soldier and his female prisoner reflects the damage a civil war brings on its people and their hope of finding love.
Jolie has the courage to bring these dramatic events into the public eye. It's now up to the audience to have the strength to watch them.
Bottom line: If you like dramatic movies about romance and war that might not always end up the way you expect, In the Land of Blood and Honey is a beautifully shot, acted and directed film that will bring you to your knees -- or take you to the hallway at least.