In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie’s provocative directorial debut on the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, is enjoying some early praise. Introducing the film at its 8 December premier, war correspondent Christiane Amanpour called it “remarkable and courageous.” Critically, war survivors are speaking up.

“From the moment the film began, I was back in April 1992, my life passed through this film completely,” Enisa Salcinovic of the Association of Concentration Camp Survivors tells Balkan Insight. “Angelina touched our souls.”

The film tells the story of the complicated romance between Danijel, a Bosnian Serb soldier, and Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim Danijel was involved with before the war but who is now captive at a concentration camp he oversees. According to reports, the movie confronts the atrocities of the conflict, including rape, and Balkan Insight quotes several other survivors who say the film is accurate and extraordinarily moving. This includes those who initially opposed its depiction of a guard/prisoner relationship at a concentration camp. Murat Tahirovic, whose Association of Concentration Camp Survivors lobbied against Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, now praises the picture.

I have yet to see In the Land of Blood and Honey — it opens nationwide 23 December – but Jolie’s is a refreshing, if controversial, approach. All too often, English-language accounts of the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s take the perspective of an outsider, often a foreign correspondent. This includes everything from Welcome to Sarajevo, director Michael Winterbottom’s feature on the siege of the Bosnian capital, to the war reportages of Misha Glenny and Anthony Loyd: respectively, The Fall of Yugoslavia and My War Gone By, I Miss It So. 

Each has merit. But, too often lacking the voices and stories of those who lived the conflicts, they are neither as powerful nor as incisive as, say, the journalist Andrew Meier’s Black Earth, which vividly captures the nuances and horrors of the Second Chechen War through first-hand accounts of survivors and soldiers.

Certainly, Jolie’s approach will offend. “… what she has done is hard and disgusting. It became too painful to watch, and still is,” Bakira Hasecic, president of the Women Victims of War Association, tells Balkan Insight. But by examining the Bosnian conflict from the perspective of perpetrator and victim – through the eyes of those who lived those terrible four years that, in some cases, saw neighbor pitted against neighbor – Jolie may offer real insight into a dauntingly complex war that remains misunderstood two decades on.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

S. Adam Cardais

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Email: adam.cardais@tol.org.

More Posts