Though still in limited release worldwide, Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, has sparked a lot of discussion. In particular, it is being acknowledged for its brutally honest depictions of violence (especially violence against women) that occurred during the Yugoslav Wars. Though the film is being received well globally, the response in Bosnia has been particularly strong. Many feel that the film speaks to the horrific realities of the war, and that the film will serve as an important record for future generations, including today’s youth, who did not grow up during the 1990s.
However, not all of the response has been positive. The Serbian media is accusing the film of being slanted and Jolie of having a pro-Muslim bias. Global Voices reported last week that Kurir, a daily paper in Serbia, has run a series of articles about the In the Land of Blood and Honey, claiming that the film presents “Serbs as criminals, killers, murderers and rapists, and Muslims as the only victims,” and asserting that Jolie “would like the public to think it is an art film, but it is actually pure anti-Serbian propaganda.”
Kurir is known as a sensationalist tabloid, so its influence may not be particularly damaging. However, it is not the only voice in Serbia speaking out against In The Land of Blood and Honey. Global Voices writes:
Momir Stojanovic, former director of the Serbian Military Intelligence Agency, also supported Kurir’s claim that Muslim extremists had funded Angelina’s project, saying “it is very close to the truth.”
Certainly, these responses by the Serbian media and military are completely offensive, but they also perpetuate flat-out lies. International courts have classified the abuses committed by Bosnian Serbs during the wars as ethnic cleansing, and there is significant evidence that the Serbian military is guilty of war crimes, particularly war rape. So the fact that In the Land of Blood and Honey is creating so many waves in Serbia probably means that there is a great degree of uncomfortable truth and accuracy in its depictions.
Though the film itself is bold and confrontational, Jolie has been wary of making generalizations about experiences that are not her own. As L.V. Anderson wrote on Slate:
Jolie, to her credit, seemed wary of making declarations about how the Bosnian conflict “really was.” She also seemed uncomfortable with her role as an outsider giving voice to other people’s stories of trauma. She spoke of her guilt about asking actors to play scenes of torment that their fellow countrymen had actually lived through. It’s quite clear that Jolie didn’t undertake the making of this film lightly. “Sometimes with even the best intentions … you still feel this huge pressure and responsibility to this real, very real, very difficult part of history,” she said.
Jolie is letting the film speak for itself. Though the film is arguably an extension of her global advocacy work, she is not interested in using it to make personal political statements. Rather, the film is the statement. Like all good political art, it is able to stand on its own as a representation of a larger truth — in this case, the realities of wartime sexual violence and abuse — and cause audiences to think about the issues in new, deeper ways. I am glad that she is using her directorial voice to magnify the voices of those directly impacted by the war, rather than as a vehicle for self-promotion.
I have yet to see In the Land of Blood and Honey, but I am curious about it. It sounds like a challenging, but vitally important, viewing experience. Have any of you had a chance to see it? If so, do you feel that it accurately and sensitively depicted the horrific realities of the Yugoslav Wars?