One of the most expected bad movies in recent history has finally become available (after a limited release in theatres, now on VOD – which also means, all over the internet for free).
If you're into masochism, if you have a fetish for pain and suffering, you can have a "pleasure" of watching the first film by Angelina Jolie, veteran-humanitarian and artist-debutante. However, there is really no need to expose yourself to the two-hours' torture: for most intelligent readers the spoiler-filled review below should suffice. The biggest problem of this cinematic pamphlet is not so much its ridiculously obvious anti-Serbian slant, but above all – that it is incredibly bad as a film. And since the policy of this blog is that a bad movie cannot be spoilt, it means that I will deal with events which make up the plot in great detail, until the very end. If you still believe that this can be spoilt for you, read just the next few paragraphs to get a basic idea of where the things are going.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY is a bad film, but also an evil film. It's bad because it is clumsy on so many levels, and it is evil in that it deliberately distorts the historical facts in an extremely one-sided way so that it is barely more than a transparent pamphlet whose main aim is to portray the Serbs as aggressors (and monsters) and the Bosnian muslims as victims (i.e. innocent sheep). As simple as that: black and white and no gray area in between.
As a film, BLOOD AND HONEY is bad because the script is weak, unconvincing, based on arbitrary reversals, it is patently episodic and without a strong connection between the pieces either in terms of plot or of (nonexistent) emotion.
- The characters are thin, lifeless cliches.
- Although there is something like a "love" story at its center, there is no chemistry between the main actors and their scenes are devoid of anything resembling passion. If we do not believe their love, we do not believe anything else in the film.
- The "love" is undermined by the poor acting (especially of the male lead, Goran Kostić), but more fundamentally, by the poor script whose unmotivated, arbitrary situations lack any meaning or emotional resonance apart from the pamphlet agenda described above (see more details below).
- Dialogues are burdened with cliches and declamations aimed at the intended foreign (American) viewers and not at the characters in the scene, and therefore they insult the intelligence of any average or above-average viewer.
- The pace is lethargic, direction is pedestrian, with no sense for storytelling, no sense of direction and purpose. This is Homer Simpson's "a bunch of stuff that happened": everything is presented (staged) equally, in a flat and shallow manner, a bunch od incidents which do not add up to a real drama.
- With this structure, the pamphlet could easily be shortened by at least half an hour, but also it could be extended for another hour, without significantly improving the lackluster, emotionally shallow "romance". This makes BLOOD AND HONEY a surprisingly dull film with literally no end in sight, and at over two hours duration, it seems much longer.
- For a film which claims to have been based on true events, it is unforgivably, shamefuly wrong in a number of ways - from the uniforms worn by the Serbs in the film, and only in the film, because in Bosnia in the 1990s they never wore anything like those, all the way to frustratingly clumsy handling of space in terms of where and how far the characters are far from each other (examples given below);
- The simplified agenda also makes for some unintentionally funny and infantile simplifications of the conflict driving it to the level of caricature in which Serbs are sniggering villains from a Disney cartoon and the Bosnian muslims are made up only of pathetic crying women and children (grownup muslims are dispatched easily and without protest in several brief scenes).
- Depending on the angle, the version in Tarzan English spoken by the native actors from the region either drastically undermines the "seriousness" of events (and is, therefore, a failure) or, in fact, it adequately underscores the caricature and inadvertent tragi-comedy (and as such it is praiseworthy because it is suited for the comic material, what with its moustache-twirling villains and doe-eyed victims).
- Gabriel Yared's score is extremely sporadic, silent and barely audible, unimpressive and forgettable: he did only a tiny bit of work himself, choosing instead to supply the soundtrack with dollops of local folk and pop music.
All the stuff listed above should be enough to prove that IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY is a BAD movie.
However, this would make it "just another bad American movie". But as said above, this is also an EVIL film – evil in the same way that HUNTING PARTY and CAPTIFS are evil. It is evil because it knowingly distorts and blatantly falsifies the facts in order to badmouth the usual suspects, the Serbs.
Angelina Jolie certainly knew what she was doing, as evidenced by the fact that she chose Goran Kostić for the male (demonic) lead. His presence has "enriched" both of the above-mentioned chetnixploitation films. Kostić has a smal role in CAPTIFS (aka CAGED), the French garbage about Serbian traders with human organs in Kosovo (that's evil nonsense, because in the real life case, it was the Albanians who captured, tortured and butchered Serbian civilians and sold their organs!). However, in HUNTING PARTY, Richard Gere's minor epic about the hunt for Karadžić in the woods and hills of Bosnia, Kostić played the memorable Evil Serb who kills Bosniaks with an axe and whose forehead is tattooed with words "Died before birth" (in Serbian cyrilic)! He's the "love interest" in Jolie's film!
To be honest: it is only because of the obvious anti-Serb "quality" of this otherwise aesthetically worthless pamphlet that it has received so much publicity in the area. The Bosnian muslims see it as the final "proof" of their self-victimizing falsifications of history (the top muslim clergy called it "the best thing that has happened to the Bosnians since Dayton peace agreement in 1995"!). The Serbs, of course, see it as further evidence of insidious western (American) agenda for demonization and forgery under the transparent guise of "art", "film" and "innocent fun".
What follows are some examples of the evil of this film.
Let's go from the beginning. Lies and machinations begin in the first minute. The opening inscription tells us that Bosnia was part of one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe. The country (Yugoslavia) is not named here, nor is it mentioned later. There is no hint as to how this PART (Bosnia) ceded from the COUNTRY (Yugoslavia) and became APART of it. There is no hint that it was, in fact, a civil war among the indigenous peoples who lived in that PART (Serbs, muslims and Croats – the latter entirely absent from this film). There is no hint that, perhaps, the Yugoslav army had the right to stop the secession of this PART which Serbs, as constitutive nation in Bosnia, were strongly against. There is no mention of the referendum about "independence" which caused the clashes and fights within Bosnia. There is not the slightest hint about the growing muslim fundamentalism which ignited the fights (nor about their support from various Middle East muslim countries). There is no hint about mujahideens fighting their Jihad in Bosnia against Christians (Serbs) and comitting literally unheard of atrocities (unheard, because the Western media needed the simple story structure: evil Serbian aggressors vs. innocent victimized Bosnian muslims). Jolie's film follows the same agenda of the American (and other) propaganda which accompanied the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s.
Her film claims that the Bosnian nations and nationalities lived in harmony. It was the idyllic Land of milk and honey (no blood, yet). Beautiful young people walking the beautiful young streets. Having fun, laughing, sitting in summer gardens, sipping drinks, making love, dancing in discos... It was one long New Year's party (although it is not New Year at the time of the film's openingwhen we see the strangely decorated streets).
The representative of Bosniaks is a young and beautiful woman, an artist (painter). The Serbs are represented by a not so young, but very ugly, big-nosed and dull-eyed guy with a threatening glance, who happens to be a police officer (Kostić). Even on their first meeting he is dressed in his cop uniform. This should be noted: there are no Serbian civilians in this film, not a single one! All Serbs in this pamphlet wear those fictional, reality-challenged uniforms, as if more than one third of Bosnian people were not made up of Serbs who had lived there for centuries. In order to stress that Serbs are "aggressors" – all of them wear uniforms in this film. However, the idyll is interrupted by an explosion of a bomb, literally out of nowhere. Suddenly, instead of "harmony" there is darkness, screams, blood, corpses, wailing ...
Bosniaks (and their American supporters) are happy when things are black and white. According to this falsified version – the war in Bosnia began with a café bomb thrown by who knows who and who knows why. If it had been done by the usual scapegoats, the Serbs, it is unclear how our Serbian cop did not know it about it. This simplified image is used so as not confused the audience by the REAL terrorist attack, which began the violence in Bosnia.
It was on 1 March 1992, the second day of the referendum on the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, when a member of the muslim military Green Berets, Ramiz Delalic, shot at the Serbian wedding procession in Bascščaršija, Sarajevo, and thereby killed the groom's father, Nikola Gardović. In response to this murder, armed Serbs put up barricades in Sarajevo to protect themselves from similar attacks, and in the period from March 1st to 5th they put up barricades in some other cities (Šamac, Doboj, Odžak)...
But the viewers of this pamphlet would be confused by this truth, so they are shown a simplified fabrication.
"Four months later": we see snow. Hey, wait a minute. If the conflict in Bosnia started in March of 1992, how come there's SNOW four months later - in July? Oh, but who cares? Artistic freedom...
Uniformed men break into apartments. Unarmed human sheep are dutifully executed. Babies cry. "Where are they taking them?" Adult males are shot behind the buildings, and women are loaded onto buses and taken to a camp. As simple as that. No Bosnian police, no Territorial defense, no Green Berets, none of these things are seen. Just Serbian aggressors coming to plunder, kill and rape innocent muslim civilians minding their business.
Soon we see the real reason for the war. It was for rape. A bald Serb soldier rapes a muslim woman in front of the other women in record time. Well, there's No Time Tolouse, since the film's final message claims that 50.000 Bosnian women were raped in just three and a half years, so they had to be fast and efficient. Since no battles nor fights are shown in the film, one gets the impression that it was not a real WAR at all, but just one long serial gangbang.
For the sake of the (American) viewers, confused at this point about who is who and who's fucking who here, enter Rade Serbedzija as the Serb general with his ridiculously simple-minded villain diatribe about ethnic cleansing.
Perhaps such stuff is needed. After all, Roger Eber in his review of this film put it nicely: Americans do not even know where the Balkans are, let alone who killed whom and why:
"There were too many complexities for a soundbite. Was it Croatians against Serbs? Christians against Muslims? A free for all? Was not it all once Yugoslavia? Which side were we on? Or did we simply want all of them to stop fighting ? ... When I mention Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, how many nations have I named? Are they in fact nations? Here's a curveball: Where are the Balkans? "
Throughout the film we see blatant examples of how bloodthirsty and cowardly and subhuman beasts these detestable Serbs were.
They shoot an ambulance.
They shoot passers-by from the truck.
They throw a baby from the balcony (Offscreen, we see only the result, from afar).
They are uncultured rednecks who demolish even a museum.
They shoot each other in the back!
They even use muslim women as human shields!
Oh, Serbs, those animals!
However, in the midst of these horrors, love takes place between the Artist and our Soldier who "did not have the luxury of choice, it's a family tradition." Because of his father (Serbedzija), he is forced to command the camp for women. He should bring back that tattoo on his forehead - "Died before birth" because here it would be even more meaningful!
In spite of the gruesome context (rape camp!), Jolie shows our lovebirds, their naked bodies intertwined in a whirlpool of passion - all of this shot in "tasteful" slow motion derivative of cliched made-for-TV movies from the early 1980s. True romance, that! Only a fireplace is missing, since Yared provided a generic piano "love" theme.
Now, it's a strange kind of romance. At the beginning of the movie it is clear that these two had just met. It was their first date. At one point, much later, he asks her: "What have you been before the war?" It is only in the camp that he discovers that his beloved is - a painter.
What is it about Daniel, other than his huge nose and dull-eyed look, that makes him so irresistible to Ayla? At one point he pushes the rifle under her nose yelling: "If you had a chance, would you kill me?"
Later, Daniel is often violent towards her: this is not a man but a powder keg just inches before explosion. He complains: "Why couldn't you be born as a Serb?"
But Ayla doesn't seem to mind his manhandling of her. She "loves" him, although their "relationship" should've exploded with the bomb in the cafe. But no! She dances naked with him. She forgives all.
Well, that's called "artistic licence". After all, this is a film in which the Serbs have "general headquarters" in Sarajevo (nothing like that in real life: their army was around the city, not in it). As Šerbedžija explains: "We're doing this for our children, so that they would not have to go to war when they grow up."
Of course, the anti-muslim genocide is the real point of the war. So we see obedient muslim civilians standing on the edge of the pit, waiting for the bullets.
Even more manipulative is the scene in which a muslim mother buries her muslim baby (Serb-thrown from the balcony) near the ruined mosque... Angelina knows a good composition of the shot, especially if it serves the propaganda. But Leni Riefenstahl she isn't – just a poor, talentless war-mongerer posing as a "humanitarian"!
As the film progresses, it gets increasingly difficult to determine where it's taking place, what with Serbian headquarters in the middle of Sarajevo in one scene, while a few minutes later we see them on the hills above Sarajevo sniping and shelling innocent civilians below. Also, the film shows something like street fighting at the time when nothing of the kind could take place in Sarajevo.
Ayla escapes from the camp, and is back again, it's hard to keep track, especially since her hiding place seems to be ten meters away from the Serbian camp. Never mind. We have Šerbedžija and his Tarzan English, yelling: "Muslim bastards! They'll pay!"
But, at this point, at the end of the second hour of endless torture, the viewer is willing to accept and forgive all, just to survive to see the damn End Credits!
And so, the film ends with no climax, no explosion of emotion or anything: it plays the final act of this pathetic wannabe tragedy when Daniel kills his rape-concubine with a bullet in the forehead...
…and then surrenders over to UNPROFOR, explicitly acknowledging that he is the war criminal: "I am a criminal of war." Well, thank god for small mercies, Daniel, we've been waiting for two long hours to get to this point, the real point of this all, so we can know who the Aggressors were (The Serbs! The Serbs!), and who played the role of Innocent Victims (The muslims! The muslims!)!
And this is how Angelina spells out the moral of her version of the story:
But it is questionable how successful her propaganda will be, since, as her colleague Leni Riefenstahl proved, one has to make a GOOD FILM first, in order for it to succeed as propaganda. IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY is a poorly made, laughable, contrived, dull, overlong, shallow pamphlet masquerading as a "film" and as such it could hardly satisfy anyone looking for a good film.
It is especially hypocritical of her to claim, at the very end, that "deep divisions remain" in Bosnia. Well, thank you, Angie, for your "objective", "humanitarian" film whose one-sided propaganda was not meant to heal these divisions, but to revive and foster them.