Blu-Ray Review: In the Land of Blood and Honey

Angelina Jolie's Golden Globe-nominated directorial debut makes its Blu-ray premiere with an English-language version not seen in theaters.

Devon Ashbyby Devon Ashby

 

From international sex symbol and, weirdly, Golden Globe-nominated director Angelina Jolie, In the Land of Blood and Honey is now available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Sony Pictures. Sony’s set contains the Serbian version of the film, which screened theatrically and made the movie eligible for Best Foreign Language consideration, as well as an English language version shot simultaneously with the same cast. Jolie’s film appears solid from a formal perspective, at least for a first feature, but its broad historical strokes, and somewhat melodramatic undercurrents, are not entirely unproblematic.

Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is an artist and a Muslim living in Bosnia Herzegovina just prior to the outbreak of military conflict in the region. Shortly after her first date with an attractive Serbian police officer, Danijel (Goran Kostic), is cut horrifically short by a politically motivated bombing, Ajla is randomly targeted by Serbian officers and confined with several other women in an internment camp. Serendipitously, Danijel has been appointed as a commanding officer at the camp in question, and he takes it upon himself to attempt to shield Ajla from the abuses typically foisted on female inmates.

Despite Danijel’s stolid impassivity and Ajla’s increasing fear for her physical safety, their personal relationship intensifies and matures into a romance. As local hostilities between Serbs and Muslims continue to mount, however, Danijel encounters suspicion and pressure from his fellow officers, and Ajla’s sense of primal obligation to her family is aroused, forcing both parties to choose between their immediate priorities and more universal, deep-seated loyalties.

Nothing about Jolie’s movie is offensively mishandled, or at least nothing I personally could perceive, although I’ve gathered some people with a more complex understanding of the Bosnian War are cheesed off about the film’s historical inaccuracies and apparent one-sidedness. From a purely formal perspective, In the Land of Blood and Honey is actually pretty solid for a first feature, though not particularly groundbreaking or revelatory aside from its subject matter. It probably deserves some respect for cultivating such a restrained thematic approach, but its stylistic bearings aren’t always clear or successful, and it drifts occasionally into long periods of awkward, listless indifference.

The English-language version of the movie is apparently only available on the DVD, and it plays pretty much the same as the Serbian version, although there are a few minor differences in the editing and presentation (whoever handled the English cut decided they didn’t need to supply the lengthy screen text during the establishing pan at the beginning, for example, that explains the political context of the action in the Serbian version). Both discs contain deleted scenes and a making-of documentary, and the Blu-ray features video from an hour-long live chat conducted with Jolie and actress Vanessa Glodjo regarding the project’s genesis. In the Land of Blood and Honey isn’t an exceptional film, but it’s watchable and engaging, and displays at least a cursory political conscience, which I guess makes it worth watching if you’re into that sort of thing.