With a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and a ban called by a Serbian leader, it is hard to tell which is better publicity for Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey. Set in Sarajevo in the early ‘90’s, the drama illustrates neighbors murdering neighbors, barbaric behavior of all sorts, rape, and an official policy of ethnic cleansing. This bloodbath makes the Serbians look bad, the Muslims look like victims. The Croatians are mostly missing in the movie’s action. But last week, at the premiere and press conference, surrounded by regional actors on all sides of that conflict, Jolie made her equal-opportunity indictment clear: war damages the human psyche.
For the actors, this history is fresh. At the press conference, they told of their war involvement mostly as children in that conflict: Vanesa Glodjo was injured by a bomb in her home. Ermin Sijamija received a phone call knowing lines had been cut and no one would be calling: a guy from high school to say he should cross the crossroads faster. He was a sniper shooting at civilians. Tomorrow, he warned, someone else would be there. The script, by Jolie, includes dehumanizing details, like elderly women prisoners forced to disrobe at a dance for the amusement of soldiers. Jolie said that in her extensive interviews with survivors, these moments spoke to the spirit-breaking level of cruelty.
The movie had me entirely in its grip until the end when Danijel makes a mea culpa speech before turning himself in to United Nations peacekeepers. The speech strikes an odd chord, much as Schindler’s oration upon seeing “his Jews” released from concentration camp in Steven Spielberg’s landmark epic did. The actor, Goran Kostic explained, “When my character Danijel turns himself in, it creates a mythic moment, as if to say, you don’t know it yet but you will hear I am a war criminal. The character needs to do this for self-redemption.”
For us, the Bosnian War was a bygone tragedy. For them it is unfinished business: an open wound like the Holocaust, this was a genocide enacted in the civilized still recent twentieth century. The emotions remain raw.
Now living in France, Kostic told me the first person who presented the Nationalist view was his professor of the Croatian language: “He was brilliant at what he taught and I was so terrified of him I left school and went to London.” What is it like now in your homeland? I asked. “Sarajevo is cosmopolitan, the kind of place you and I would like. The Nationalists won in the outskirts, which remain enclaves of ethnicity today. I ran away and now I have 3 sons and I would not want to go back there.” Zana Marjanovic (Ajla, his lover) spent time in New York studying acting and went back to make a change.
Brad Pitt walked the red carpet at the movie’s premiere: was he proud of Angie? Yes, “very much so.” Polite but curt, he was a shadowy presence on set, said the actors, filing by reporters one by one. And Angelina? “She’s a saint.”