Written and directed by actress Angelina Jolie, In the Land of Blood and Honey is a love story set against the backdrop of war. Nothing too unique there as that story model has been featured in everything from Gone with the Wind to A Farewell to Arms. This has a bit more of a Romeo and Juliet sensibility to it as the lovers at the center of this story are separated by opposing sides of this conflict- the real-life Bosnian war that drew lines and separated those of gender (men raped women on both sides), religion (Christians against Muslims), and race (Serbians against Croatians). I should add that I'm not really familiar with the conflict and that any information I've retained has been from the movie so I do not mean any disrespect if I'm unintentionally simplifying or undermining any of the real issues that were at stake.
Therin, however, seems to lie a chief issue I had with the film. Global conflicts are incredibly difficult to understand. You have such vastly different cultures and beliefs that I sometimes feel one can't ever break down the emotions that ran high in World War II just as one can't decipher chaos in the Middle East in a two hour movie, speech, or newscast. Hell, there are social issues here in America that have so many facets to them that I often can't properly form an opinion because of there being more than two sides to a story or issue. Jolie certainly has a political point to her film, but she is smart enough to underly it with presenting at least another side. There are horrible atrocities that the camera doesn't shy away from by Serbian Christians against the Muslims. Then again, there is a scene where Bebojsa (Rade Serbedzija) delivers a powerful monologue about atrocities that were committed against Serbian Christians by others. I don't use the world "powerful" or "horrible" lightly. This film has a lot of raw emotional in how moving and involving it can be, but the story never does anything too significant with that energy for my liking.
The war is mostly seen through the eyes of the at-odds lovers Danijel (Goran Kostic) and Alja (Zana Marjanovic). To make a comparision to a favorite movie mine, Schindler's List often cut away from the main characters to give other points of view to the genocide at hand. Jolie's film seems to just stay with the two characters and the scenes where they are together are certainly well acted and handled, but then the story seems to become just about them. This isn't so much a case of a film that feels splintered, but there is a great concentration on explaining, justifying, condemning, etc. the conflict that is sometimes placed aside for the development of two characters. I find the development to be fascinating and one of the best cases of subtle melodrama in recent memory, but when the script changes to depicting atrocities, I'm wondering if that was the best way to tell the story.
Either way, it's an impressive directorial debut and it's beautifully photographed by director of photography Dean Semler. Jolie definitely understands how important it is to know where the camera should be as it is to have a great understanding of story and character. It certainly helps the film's attempted meshing of love and war.