As so many movies are, In the Land of Blood and Honey is loosely based on the classic plot of “Romeo and Juliet,” except that this film is certainly even more twisted than the original story. Set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War, the drama earnestly presents the regional conflict from multiple horrific perspectives. The novice filmmaker’s execution is bold, relentless and occasionally even glamorous, ostensibly to make a statement. What else would you expect from the writing and directorial debut of humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie?

The movie, which exists in both English and Bosnian versions, begins in 1992, shortly before the Bosnian Serbs’ policy of ethnic cleansing went into effect. On the eve of a lovely date between Muslim artist Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) and Bosnian policeman Danijel (Goran Kostic) that includes dancing and flirtatious whispers at a nightclub in Sarajevo, a bomb inconveniently detonates in the club, launching the dismal mood that accompanies the brutal events continuing throughout the remainder of the film.

A few months after this incident, Ajla lines up alongside other Muslims and is among several women chosen by Serbian soldiers to board a bus to a concentration camp. The men are taken off to be shot.

Almost every atrocity imaginable is covered in this harsh depiction of Bosnia’s state of terror. Particular attention is paid to the disturbing cruelties against women, who are raped by egotistical soldiers and used as shields to protect the Serbians against the bullets of their own Muslim people. Ajla’s sister, Lejla (Vanessa Glodjo), is featured in one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the film. It will make even the most stubborn curmudgeon weep.

That being said, the dialogue is somewhat weak.  While the screenplay faces the obvious challenge of providing the audience with some details of the region’s background leading up to the gruesome war, Jolie’s methods seem forced and unnatural — it’s not extremely likely that Danijel, now a captain at Ajla’s camp, would need a recap of his own country’s history.

Without giving too much away, one thing that Jolie does have going for her is an ability to throw unexpected twists and character reactions into the mix. Without a doubt, Marjanovic and Kostic’s acting performances also strengthen the film as a whole, even amidst the ambiguous intentions of their characters. At times, it is unclear why Danijel, seemingly more compassionate than his platoon, offers Ajla protection. In turn, whether Ajla truly loves Danijel or is simply embracing a more secure lifestyle is open to interpretation.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted rom-com, In the Land of Blood and Honey shouldn’t be your pick for a weekend trip to the movies. If you do choose to see it, make sure that you’ll be able to stomach the violence and morbid tactics portrayed. The film’s take-home message isn’t for the weak of heart: War brings out the worst in everyone.

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