For much of its running time, In the Land of Blood and Honey is a startlingly unpleasant film. Director Angelina Jolie's stark, Bosnian War-set drama depicts the murders, rapes and torture that occurred during the three-and-a-half year conflict between the Serbs and Croats, and constantly teeters on the edge of another violent outburst. Ajla (Zana Marjanović), a Bosnian Muslim artist, is sent to become a sex slave at the Serbian troop headquarters, but is saved by Danijel (Goran Kostić), a Serbian soldier she met just prior to the war. Jolie's refusal to glamorize the conflict is admirable, but In the Land of Blood and Honey's wartime love story only adds to the discomfort.
In return for Danijel's protection from the other soldiers, Ajla walks the fine line between becoming Danijel's lover and his property. Danijel never wanted to fight for the Serbs, who begin slaughtering Bosnian Muslims, but must obey his hard-line, Serb general father. Danijel stands idly by as his fellow soldiers torment Ajla in the mess hall, only to beckon her to bed with him a few hours later. This uneasy courtship is exasperated by Ajla's terribly subservient position, and Danijel's violent outbursts mirror the horrors around him. At one point he ties Ajla to the bed with a belt and attempts to rape her in an episode Jolie uses to depict Danijel as just as culpable as the rest of the troops.
Jolie cannot be accused of softening the conflict to benefit the love story. In the Land of Blood and Honey is a film overflowing with atrocities. Jolie stages violent murders and rapes without apology, and the Serb troops are depicted committing a number of lesser horrors. People are rounded up at their apartment complexes and told they must sign over their property to the troops. The men are then shot, babies thrown from balconies and the women shipped into servitude. Viewers see this off-battlefield terror through the eyes of Ajla's sister, Lejla (Vanessa Glodjo), who is left in the city with her infant daughter.
Jolie is known for her worldwide humanitarian work, and In the Land of Blood and Honey is an unpretentious debut made with the best of intentions. Jolie never excuses the dehumanizing effects of war, and quietly condemns both the international community and the United Nations for its inaction as the Balkans fell into chaos. Jolie shot In the Land of Blood and Honey with regional actors and the film uses local dialects, which greatly add to its authenticity. Jolie also makes the war-torn scenery seem hauntingly beautiful at times, and viewers may find her behind the camera more frequently in the future.
The biggest problem I have with In the Land of Blood and Honey is the way it handles Ajla and Danijel's relationship, which turns into a miniature war. Danijel is meant to be conflicted and scared of failing his father but comes across as manipulative and devoid of sympathy for others. Ajla is his plaything, and she only accepts this role because she has to. In the Land of Blood and Honey is bleak to the point of becoming oppressive. By painting assault after assault on humanity, Jolie overwhelms the viewer. The rough cuts back to Danijel and Ajla can be confounding, and do nothing to ease the nonstop terror of war.
The film is available in both the original Serbian language version with optional English subtitles (Blu-ray only) and the never-before-seen English language version (DVD only).
The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for In the Land of Blood and Honey deftly supports the distressed landscape. The transfer is film-like, with a nice layer of natural grain, and skin tones are natural. Detail is excellent, and softness is rarely an issue. Fabrics and landscapes are nicely textured, and backgrounds stretch for miles. The image is not especially colorful, but splices of bright fabrics and the terrible reds of blood are perfectly saturated. The only issue is the moderate crush that occurs during dimly lit scenes, which robs the image of some detail.
The Serbian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is solid. Dialogue is clear and crisp, and is never overpowered by the effects. The track is quite active during scenes of war. An early explosion rattles the surround speakers and invokes a hefty LFE response. Gunfire whizzes through the sound field, and directional dialogue pans the room. The track exhibits good range, and quiet scenes are as audible as the effects-packed moments. English and English SDH subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
In the Land of Blood and Honey is a two-disc set. Included in the standard Blu-ray case are the Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film. Extras include a number of deleted scenes (16:32/HD), most of which were cut from the beginning of the film for pacing reasons. The Making of In the Land of Blood and Honey (10:24/HD) is not especially in-depth, but it provides some decent behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Jolie, the crew and the cast. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a lengthy Q&A with Director Angelina Jolie and Actress Vanessa Glodjo (1:02:03/HD). The two women sit at a table and answer submitted questions about the shoot, location scouting, conflict in the region, future projects and acting style. There is a lot of interesting ground covered, but the format grows dull after a while.
Angelina Jolie proves a talented writer/director with In the Land of Blood and Honey, which, despite its flaws, was made for the right reasons. The love story at the heart of the film mirrors the horrors of the Bosnian War, but at times feels trite and distracting. Jolie's film dives headfirst into the atrocities of war, and is almost unbearably bleak. In the Land of Blood and Honey is a powerful story, but its dark love story detracts from its effect. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.