There' s nary a girly moment in "In the Land of Blood and Honey," Anjelina Jolie's hair-raising, heartbreaking love story set amid the horrors of the Bosnian war.
In fact, Jolie's name doesn't appear until the end of the film … almost as if she's hoping we'll discover the movie without knowing that it was made by one of the world's most famous and desirable women.
This grueling effort follows the parallel lives of Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Serbian police officer, and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a Muslim artist. In the film's early moments the two enjoy a night out dancing at a Sarajevo nightclub. The revelries end when a bomb goes off near them. The war is officially underway.
With Sarajevo under siege by rampaging Serb forces, Ajla hunkers down in an apartment with her mother, sister and infant nephew. One day truckloads of Serbian soldiers pull up and order everyone out of the building. The Muslim men are summarily shot. The women, at least the attractive ones, are carted off to a barracks where they work as cooks, seamstresses, waitresses and prostitutes for Serbian soldiers. Rape and beatings are a daily occurrence.
Ajla has it a bit better than most, for the officer in charge is Danijel, her old pre-war flame. Danijel, whose bigwig father (Rade Serbedzija) is one of the architects of "ethnic cleansing," is torn between loyalty to his family and Serbian brotherhood and his essential decency. As unobtrusively as possible he looks out for Ajla, preventing his men from raping her, slipping her food and advising her on a way to escape the camp. Little by little he and Ajla fall into one another's arms. With killing all around, who knows when they'll ever again enjoy a moment of pleasure or physical intimacy?
Thanks to the superb performances by Kostic and Marjanovic, these two characters plumb some sorrowful and terrifying psychological depths.
Does Ajla really love Danijel, or is she just hoping to survive? Maybe she has some version of Stockholm syndrome where she identifies with her captor?
And Danijel must literally fight daily to retain his humanity, doing all he can not to be a war criminal but frequently finding himself pushed into doing evil things.
"In the Land of Blood and Honey" is too brutal, too unrelenting, too downbeat to have much of a chance at the box office. But daring moviegoers should check it out. As a writer and director Angelina Jolie has done herself proud.