Angelina Jolie has aroused praise and criticism in Bosnia with her first film as a director, a story of love and war set during the bloody Balkans conflict.
She is Hollywood’s highest-paid actress and one half of its most glamorous couple, accustomed to life on the red carpet, her instantly-recognisable face looking out from glossy magazine covers. This time, however, Angelina Jolie is being feted for her work behind rather than in front of the camera with her directorial debut – a harrowing story of love and war in Bosnia. Even before the release of In the Land of Blood and Honey, the Oscar-winner garnered her first directing honour, winning the Producers’ Guild of America special award for portrayal of social issues. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has just shortlisted the film, which Jolie also wrote, in the best foreign language category for the Golden Globes. And her father, the actor Jon Voight, from whom she was long estranged, joined her for the festivities in a public display of reconciliation.
But in the Balkans, another world from the star-studded American premieres and glitzy after-parties, the film is inflaming old and deeply-held emotions. The passionate reaction reflects the deep ethnic rifts that still divide Bosnia ahead of next year’s 20th anniversary of the bloody fratricidal conflict that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives. Former Bosnian Muslim war prisoners and relatives of massacre victims, some of them initially critical, lauded In the Land of Blood and Honey after being invited to a private screening to allay earlier fears about the subject matter.
But the leader of a Bosnian Serb prisoners group has slammed the film for its allegedly one-sided depiction of the atrocities and called for it to be banned from the country’s Serbian areas. And a Croatian journalist is suing Jolie and her team for plagiarism, claiming that she borrowed large chunks of the plot from a 2007 book he wrote about a love story set against the backdrop of the vicious collapse of Yugoslavia. Jolie’s husband Brad Pitt – with whom she has three biological and three adopted children – has produced several films.
The film, which opens in the US this Friday [DEC 23], centres on the fictional relationship between a Muslim woman artist and Serbian army officer. Once romantically involved before the war erupted in April 1992, they are reunited when she is detained in a Serbian internment camp that he commands.
The existence of the camps, where rape, brutality and murder were common, shocked the world as an ethnic cleansing campaign was waged on European soil.