Culture  More blood than honey

Lela Savic provides a Yugoslavian perspective on Jolie’s new film

It was at the AMC theatre that I gathered the courage to watch Angelina Jolie’s new film, In the Land of Blood and Honey.

Let’s all be honest here, Angelina Jolie makes a film about the Bosnian war? Now we’ve heard it all. During the shooting, a great deal of controversy surfaced based on the rumoured plot. I had read in an article in February of last year, that stated that Jolie wanted to make a film about a Bosnian woman who falls in love with her Serbian rapist. I could not believe that someone could be so insensitive. Being from the former Yugoslavia, I felt that this would do nothing but serve as an insult, both to those involved in the conflict, as well as to any rape survivor.

“Does Angelina Jolie think that by giving some nonsense portrayal of what happened in this war from her ignorant perspective, we should feel thankful for adding the war in Bosnia to her list of philanthropic efforts?” observed one of my Bosnian friends when she found out about the film.

I wasn’t too excited about the film even before walking into the theater. I felt as though she made this film without thinking about the effect it would have on the locals. I was not wrong.

Yet it seems she did revisit the plot to an extent. While the film was marketed as a love story between a Serbian army officer and a Bosnian prisoner who knew each other before the war, I personally did not see how this could be the case. The film is rather about the tense relationship between a captor, a Serbian army officer responsible for rounding up Muslims in Bosnia, and a female prisoner, a woman he was interested in prior to the war and who he is now able to exploit while simultaneously protecting as his “personal property.”

Ajla, the Bosnian woman is not really depicted as having feelings for her captor. Rather, it seems that she feels abused and responds to his “love” out of fear rather than romantic feelings. Danijel, the Serbian army officer, is portrayed as a caricature – a very aggressive, self-centered man, with no remorse except for the very little he shows to Ajla.

The film could have done more had we seen the two characters share passion, and in doing so, subvert discrimination, especially in Danijel’s case. But his abusive character and his violent response to her confrontations destroy this possibility. At the end of the film, I wished I could have seen more remorse – a more nuanced portrayal of Serbians. A balance between nationalists and non-nationalists would have been more fair and would have had a positive effect on the relationships between the people of the former Yugoslavia.

Being from the region, I was particularly concerned about the consequences of such a film for all the people in the former Yugoslavia. I must admit that the film was very well shot, the actors were great, and I particularly appreciated that it was filmed in the local language. What was portrayed in the film was true. During the war, ethnic cleansing and mass rape were common, and many people were killed.

My issues with the film do not stem from any feelings of Serbian nationalism. I am not a Serbian nationalist, as are some who want to deny what happened and call war criminals heroes. Being from Serbia, I am actually very much against Serbian nationalism and dream of days when we could all go back to being the same in the beautiful country of Yugoslavia. Some Bosnian women I spoke to after the film agreed with me, they, too, lamented that the country had, at one point, been together, and had to descend to that point. But they seemed happy with the film, and felt more comfortable that an outsider made such a film (instead of a person who had been a part of the conflict).

I agree with their point of view. But, while Jolie said in an interview that she thinks this film will help people in the region to move into transition, I think it will do exactly the opposite. A film that focuses on  a conflict’s atrocious events, with only a shallow historical background does not help people move into a transition, nor does it help the rest of the world understand what happened. Like one of my friends from Sarajevo said, “Westerners have to understand why these types of movies annoy us locals. There is rarely any historical background provided as to why any similar events would’ve taken place. Then there are always some dramatic scenes to make it look better. They just always show a black and white story.”

Today, I still see some anti-Bosnian, anti-Croatian, and anti-Serbian comments on many social media outlets from all regions of the former Yugoslavia, particularly in the trailer of the film on YouTube. The tension is still there. And the worst part of it is that these nationalist sentiments are often advocated by youth, which did not live in the Yugoslav era and don’t know what happened. They represent our future. The future who will decide if we will unite and make peace or keep fighting and make more wars. It’s very unfortunate that a person such as Jolie, who commands so much of the international media’s attention, and is often seen as a role model, did not think about the consequences of her film on – I  dare say – the present and past of those who live in the former Yugoslavia present and future. With her film, Jolie only nourished the conflict. She could have done a lot of good for today’s political situation in all parts of former Yugoslavia had she just shown a little bit more nuance. Had she portrayed some characters in the film with Yugoslavian values, she could have reached the hearts of many more. Today, we need to re-establish those values so that we can avoid another war, another massacre, another tragedy.

People today are in post-war transition and are slowly trying to get past their differences so that conflicts do not re-surface. Hence, creating a graphic reminder of the events without providing appropriate context can only aggravate the situation. When making a film about a political conflict, one factor that many directors disregard is the consequences their film will have on the people who actually lived it. Though her film represents a harsh reality of what happened in Bosnia, Jolie – like many other directors who are strangers to the conflicts they portray – failed to consider this too.