Angelina Jolie’s first feature film as director and screenwriter was 2011’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War that tore the Balkan region apart in the 1990s. Even though the movie got mixed reviews, Jolie said in interviews that the experience of telling this tragic war story had a profound effect on her. It may not be a coincidence that Jolie’s second feature film as director is also a story of human survival during a war: 2014’s “Unbroken,” based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling biography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star who survived being a prisoner of war during World War II. Unlike “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which had a cast that was mostly Bosnian actors, “Unbroken” cast consists primarily of British and American actors. (Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini in the movie.)
“In the Land of Blood and Honey” tells the story of Danijel (played by Goran Kostić) and Ajla (played by Zana Marjanović), two Bosnians from different sides of a brutal ethnic conflict. Danijel, a Bosnian Serb police officer, and Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim artist, are together before the war, but their relationship is changed as violence engulfs the country. Months later, Danijel is serving under his father, General Nebojsa Vukojevich (played by Rade Šerbedžija), as an officer in the Bosnian Serb Army. He and Ajla come face to face again when she is taken from the apartment she shares with her sister, Lejla (played by Vanesa Glodjo), and Lejla’s infant child by troops under Danijel’s command. As the conflict takes hold of their lives, their relationship changes, their motives and connection to one another become ambiguous and their allegiances grow uncertain. Here is what Jolie said in a New York City press conference for “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
There are some tough scenes to watch in “The Land of Blood and Honey,” such as the scene where soldiers force women to undress for them. Did you have the actors re-enact any of the things they went through in the war?
I did. First of all, I never planned to direct anything. I didn’t approach this because I wanted to make a movie. I had been haunted for years by traveling in the filed by lack of intervention for the trauma people faced in post-conflict situations and my frustration in seeing their pain and wondering if we could have prevented this and done something before. Violence against women, man’s inhumanity against man — all of it.
And so, I sat down privately to write something, and this led me, clearly, to Bosnia, because it was a war of my generation. And it was one I felt a responsibility to learn about, because I didn’t know. And the more I learned, the more I was overwhelmed by the guilt of how little I knew and was shocked by how long this went on and what was going on.
So when I sat down with one particular woman who told me this story, it was very, very hard and very emotional. I think many people who lived through the war didn’t speak about it or hadn’t spoken about it. So I was asking them to remember things. And, of course, you feel guilty asking people to go back into their memories. But she spoke openly.
Her memory of being used as a human shield was one that she explained in great detail. And then, she said that even thought it wasn’t the most violent [think she experienced], it broke her when they took the old women and made them dance naked in front of them. That’s what broke her mentally, and she never could recover from it.
We tried to recreate it on the day. It was very hard for everybody, because as a director I didn’t want to ask women to do that. I felt like I was torturing them myself, and I couldn’t get myself to do it, so I kept apologizing and apologizing. And it was much harder for the men who were there, because they had to participate and laugh at these women and act in a way that is not in their nature. They didn’t want to be these people.
But they knew that if they did that, it was in fact, a gift to these women, because they were going to show the horrors, and that’s what a lot of the men in this film did. They acted in a way that was aggressive, which to me is very noble for them to do on behalf of the women.
Can you talk about writing the script for “In the Land of Blood and Honey”?
It started with me questioning, “What if was me and my family? What I it happened tomorrow? What would I do? How long would it take? What would have to happen before I broke and changed? And how would I behave?”
So that was the meditation through it. And I wrote as best I could, but then as I started sending it out to everyone, we all worked on it together.
Everybody here knows this history better than I do. They’ve lived this history. They were physically under attack themselves or on different sides of this conflict. So they would filled in the story, and they enhanced it, and they helped me put the film together.
For more info: “In the Land of Blood and Honey” website