The film begins just before the start of the Yugoslavia conflict in the early 1990s in what is now a sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a Bosnian Muslim, is a painter who is meeting Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Bosnian Serb (and therefore a Christian) police officer on a date when a bomb explodes in the club that they are at. Both are unhurt though many others are killed. The attack is a precursor of the horror and violence to come.
Flash forward to six months later and the terror has started. The Serbian led army is actively hunting down the Muslim population, shooting able bodied men and taking the women to camps where they cook, clean, and are victims to repeated rape. As Ajla is separated from her sister and her infant nephew, she is taken to a camp where Danijel is posted. Shocked and disturbed to see her, Danijel protects her as best he can. Wary and repulsed at first, Ajla slowly begins to trust him, particularly when he confesses that he is a reluctant participant in the war, but that his father, a Bosnian Serb warlord is the major force behind the continuing violence. The two become lovers and an uneasy and disturbing prisoner-captor relationship is borne. When Danijel is transferred away from the camp he tells Ajla how to escape through a certain bathroom window. Their paths cross again in the next few years of the ongoing conflict, and whether by design or by accident, their next meeting becomes the crux of the story.
There are many disturbing aspects of the film. Some may ask, why tell such a story at all, and that too, a love story set in such circumstances. Jolie, with her debut feature, is valiantly attempting to bring to the world a subject that is clearly close to her heart. A veteran humanitarian, it is clear that she has paid a great deal of attention to the horrors and injustice of war. The only way to make such material watchable is to frame it by something the human mind can grasp, in other words, the familiar structure of a love story. Mankind has done terrible things in the name of religion, and for one or another ethnicity to gain hegemony. People have short memories, especially the international community that wields a measure of power to stop, or at least intervene in such situations. While not a masterpiece In the Land of Blood and Honey is a genuine and skilled attempt at trying to bring these very important issues to the forefront.
Even nations that have experienced horrors such as ethnic conflicts, war crimes, and civil wars have short memories after the fact. Watching Angelina Jolie's film reminds us of the travesties of war, and the struggle to rise above it. It is an important reminder of the truly unspeakable events that can ensue at the advent of ethnic conflict, and when people regard each other as inherently different instead of sharing a common humanity.
This is exactly the kind of film that can and ought to be made in Nepal and is sure to find a deep and lasting resonance with local audience. One only has to read the papers daily to see that we, as a nation, are very much in a post-conflict intellectual struggle to try and integrate our multi-ethnic peoples into a constitution that needs to be fair for all.
All DVDs reviewed in this column are available at: Music and Expression, Thamel, Phone 01 4700092