In the Land of Blood and Honey: When the Balkan Wounds Are Revisted

Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic will soon be the talk of the town, or rather of nations. With a disturbing plot line that explores war, rape, victims of genocide and centuries of hatred, In the Land of Blood and Honey angered several people even when it was just in the process of being directed. Angelina Jolie did remind critics that they should allow the movie to be completed before making judgments and that day of judgment may soon arrive in fact as soon as December 2011.

Set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War, it has all the plots and subplots that make Hollywood movies appealing to the mainstream. It has the bombs, the violence, romance, special effects and a great cast that would encourage mainstream moviegoers to watch it. It also has the Bosnian War itself, as a storyline which is not very mainstream and even if it were so, it would rustle feathers in communities, which are linked to the war. Those who remain blind to what happened during the years of Balkan bloodletting may find In the Land of Blood and Honey yet another intriguing war movie, which would successfully arouse devious emotions that have been explored in other mainstream war movies as well.

The fact that Angelina Jolie has attempted to use the Bosnian War as a theme makes many curious as to what the reactions of those involved in the actual war would be. The hunters and the hunted of the Balkan Wars of 1990s shall feel genuine reawakening of emotions that are still rather fresh in memory. It hasn’t been long after the last couple of bones were found in a desolate grave in the beautiful mountains of Bosnia. These bones are rather young, and if their owners were not murdered and killed, the bones would still have carried the weights of living people, some of whom would still be in their teenage years.

Angelina promises that though the movie uses the done-to-death Stockholm syndrome plot, it has something to offer to everyone, and will offer a wide landscape to explore the possible effects of war on human relationships and behaviour. She admits that it is a complex plot, made more complex by the reality of the theme which is bloody, disturbing and full of wounds that are still not healed. Tragic as it is, movies that explore the effects of Balkan War on the people of former Yugoslavian people have mostly been critically acclaimed, and managed to rustle emotions of people who were involved in the wars, or those who passively or actively participated in it, and endured it. These are the very people who have seen their lives being destroyed right in front of their eyes, and these are also the very same people whose memories are scarred with the sounds of gunfire, of screams of rape victims, and of people dying. The rest of the people either saw these movies as ‘just another war movie’ or worse, ‘amazing movies with great special effects’.

Jolie who has worked closely with the people of the Balkan region and the victims of Bosnian War has the luxury of personal experience with her film theme, celebrity status, financial strength and access to technology and marketing. This undoubtedly gives her an edge over other big names in Hollywood, who might have all the above correlates but for personal experience. In the Land of Blood and Honey will pique those stuck in the cycles of conflict and hatred, arouse the interest of film critics and grab the attention of mainstream audience.

Bosnian writer Ivo Andric had captured the Balkan mood quite prophetically in his short story ‘Letter from the Year 1920‘. The first-person narrator of the story reflects on the nature of human hatred which is seen as a correlate of fear and the driving force behind wars, particularly in the Balkan region.

The story is rather ironic in nature for the fear experienced by the Jewish doctor towards Bosnia and its feuding peoples made him leave his beloved country, for he was repulsed by the organic hatred which surrounded him. Eventually, hatred of other people takes his life, when he mortally wounded while treating his patients in Spain. Hatred, Ivo Andric felt, would consume those who hated it, and also those who loved it. Ivo Andric described his own understanding of wars, religious violence and hatred in the Balkans, and centuries of suspicion and take-it-for-granted sort of hatred, which according to him, gave the people of Balkans a purpose to live.

The Balkan region has curiously been a microcosm of human culture itself, for it has been the scene of all the hatred, love, prosperity and devastation that humankind has ever known. Prophet that he was, the hatred that he describes Letter from the Year 1920 convulsed the Balkan region again during the 1990s. This time, the hatred was acted upon as revenge by those who were blinded by their state of victimization. Thus, the victims of yesteryears become the perpetrators of today, and the victims of today would perpetrate atrocities against victims of tomorrow.

A part of this dark tale of hunters and the hunted will now be captured on the celluloid by Angelina Jolie in her movie which shall explore the relationship between the female, Muslim and Bosnian protagonist and her Serbian, male captor who eventually becomes her lover. Caught in the cycle of hatred as they both are, they make for a wonderful storyline that will entertain the audience across the world. The tragedy however is movies that have themes of recent wars usually entertain the larger audience, and remain a topic of discussion for a few weeks or months. The real wounds are either aggravated, or healing wounds are scratched again to bleed a bit here and a bit there. What is not tragic is that both big and low budget movies provide landscapes for people to study human behaviour, and how many of our thoughts and actions have been thought and acted by generations of people, and will continue to be.

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  • Anonymous

    Beautiful review. Thank you.

  • curioushairedgal

    Three months after you wrote this, In the Land of Blood and Honey premiered in Sarajevo, and it was yet once again revealed that Andrić was right about hatred. This is the best review of the movie I’ve come across. It talks about victimization and the paralizing effect it has on Bosnian society today. The effect so visible on the most basic level of daily living that makes it unbearable sometimes to continue living there. And yet one does…working on the honey part .
    Thank you.

  • ~kirkesque

    This review comes off as an apologetic argument that Ms. Jolie must be both correct and well-versed in her subject matter. Sadly, for those who have long been involved with the Yugoslavian wars and their aftermath, her soft-focus platitudes come off as insulting to virtually every perspective that has actual connection with the conflict, the culture, and the people of the region. Andrić /was/ correct, not only about hatred, but about bridges as well. And Ms. Jolie ignored the complexity of both.

    • Jaiyant Cavale

       I think movies made by external entities (in this case, Ms. Jolie) stir up strong feelings among those who are/were directly affected by conflicts.. It is pretty natural to feel so, and justified as well. To experience wars and conflict first hand, and to learn it from books/movies/other people are two different things.

      My intention was not to sound apologetic, but I felt more people would remember the conflict that took place so recently.. International audiences tend to forget conflicts very easily, and remember them when movies are made/books are written and that’s a tragedy.

      I personally feel art/movies have the ability to remind people of the mistakes we make as humanity, even if it is for a transient period of time.. Of course, that can hurt a lot of people who experienced these conflicts themselves.. Thanks for dropping by..

      And yes, Andric wrote a lot about bridges. And I agree hatred and building bridges are extremely complex and these complexities are most evident in the Balkan region..

  • Bojan Djordjevic

    From Serbian perspective this movie is biggest piece of bullshit and an insult to injury!