I preface this review by admitting that I am not a film critic—however, I have written six books on Balkan history and as a journalist, many of my articles have been published dealing with the Balkans, that have been reproduced in the International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times among others and published in the Serbian press for two decades.
Regarding In the Land of Blood and Honey, I wish to correct what I observed, especially the distortion of historic facts. I will leave the artistic side to those who are more qualified. Sex, violence and fabrication appear alive and well in Hollywood as cinematic tricks are used to distract and “entertain” us.
Angelina Jolie wrote, directed and produced Blood and Honey. Jolie has unfortunately diverted our attention away from the facts regarding the Bosnian Civil War that she used as the backdrop for her exaggerated melodrama. She seems clueless that she plagiarized Shakespeare.
When Jolie went into this film production, she was fully aware of the emotional scars and personal losses of many Bosnian families, especially those of mixed marriages who will view this film. Pretending that her film is just make-believe but based on actual events, is a cop-out lacking responsibility—the kind of responsibility Jolie demands when human rights are violated.
Jolie arrogantly brushes aside the real Romeo & Juliet of Bosnia killed by a sniper on May 19, 1993. He was Bosko Brkic, a Bosnian Serb, and she was Admira Ismic, a Bosnian Muslim—they were assassinated as they tried to escape the Muslim side of Sarajevo by crossing the Vrbanja Bridge for safety on the Serbian side of the city. In their dying embrace they remained on that bridge for several days. The media, like vultures, manipulated their deaths and the ugly visual image for the benefit of their front page stories and nightly news.
But Jolie’s newest Romeo, Danijel, played by Serbian actor, Goran Kostic, and Juliet, Ajla, played by Muslim actress Zana Marjanovic, weaves a different story using sex, aggression and murder that perverts audiences’ senses into believing that violence, mistreatment and enslavement are supposed to represent a romance in the midst of an ethnic war. Granted, this is the prerequisite for a successful film today in Hollywood, and I acknowledge that the film was not intended to be a documentary, but, then again, propaganda always starts from this position.
The beginning of the film shows Ajla getting dressed for a date with a Serbian policeman. The following scene is of them dancing in a Sarajevo nightclub, meant to show a multi-ethnic city being shattered by a bomb blast, obviously launched by the Serbs. The next scene erupts with women being dragged onto a bus headed for what else? A Serb Rape Camp! Little footage is wasted before these women are taken from the bus, and moments later, a Serbian policeman throws one of them over the hood of a vehicle, pulls down her pants and rapes her. Next, the policeman grabs Ajla and proceeds to rape her when Danijel, her Serb love interest, prevents the rape and tells his fellow officer that she is not to be touched. Ajla survives the story locked in a room and only sleeps with Danijel. Why a young man would spend a war defending a woman with whom he only had one date, rings hollow in this plot. Turning that into another “Romeo & Juliet of Bosnia” comes off as rather naïve.
Jolie uses this Serbian bombing as the beginning of her film, ignoring the real start of the Bosnian Civil War when Muslim terrorists crashed into a Christian Serbian church during a wedding in Sarajevo, telling the guests that “Serbs were no longer allowed to display their centuries-old flag because Bosnia was now a Muslim country.” The thugs then shot and killed the father of the groom and seriously wounded the Serbian Orthodox priest and a dozen of the wedding guests.
Jolie omits any reference to the more than 2,000 Muslim terrorists who came to Sarajevo from Osama bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan and who tortured and executed a dozen Serbian soldiers by roasting them on spits like animals and decapitating dozens more. Then carried their severed heads around Sarajevo as trophies. My files contain several of those hideous photographs.
Jolie also cleverly omits the fact that thousands of Serbs were fired from their jobs including my friend who worked for Sarajevo Television for over 25 years. Muslims went throughout Sarajevo’s apartment buildings evicting Serb tenants who lived in those units for decades. After tossing Serb families out they threw their possessions out of the windows into the street. Jolie never touches on the fact that 250,000 Serbs were cleansed from Sarajevo and were forbidden to return to cast their ballots in the first Bosnian election in which Alija Izetbegovic won the presidency by only 44,000 votes. Any rationale for the Serbian retaliation including self-defense in this film was obviously left on Jolie’s cutting-room floor.
The Croats who fought the Bosnian Muslims for 4 years escaped notice and were made invisible in this film. The Bosnian Muslims were portrayed as innocent victims brutalized by overpowering Serb forces.
As I sat through this film, I was reminded of Peter Brock’s outstanding book, Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting—Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia, in which one chapter is entitled, “Only Muslim Victims, Only Serb Perpetrators.” This movie, much like the contemptible record of the partisan press that covered this Civil War, keeps reinforcing the lie that “300,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.” Like Goebbels during the Holocaust who preached “Tell a lie a hundred times and it becomes the truth,” the lie of 300,000 deaths and 60,000 rapes was repeated by the media for seven years, and the world was made to believe it.
Through reputable human rights organizations we now know that less than 97,000 victims were killed on all sides in these Balkan Civil Wars, hardly enough victims on any side to be considered “genocide.” We also know that Jolie was fully aware of the 800,000 victims hacked to death in Rwanda two years earlier that Jolie managed to ignore. However, it appears she embraced any Bosnian propaganda that fit into her melodrama. Blood and Honey was nominated in the foreign film category, but I do not think many in Hollywood expect much from her film-directing debut.
The dialogue does briefly acknowledge Serb victims at The Battle of Kosovo in 1389, an historical event that will escape 99% of any audience viewing this film. Also, the casual mention of the Croatian Ustashe Nazi forces in WWII who liquidated 1.4 million Serbs, 60,000 Jews and 78,000 Roma Gypsies is connected with a “Chetnik” remark (Chetniks were the Serbs who fought the Nazis) that will escape her audience as well.
While the Serbian Orthodox church received its share of blame in the media and in this film, no connection is made to the late Serbian Patriarch Pavle who led over a million Serbs in protest marches that were the largest and longest in decades against the Milosevich government. During an interview with the Swiss Federal Parliament on December 10, 1992, the Patriarch told officials: “800 Serb women were documented as repeated rape victims in 20 camps operated by Muslims and Croats.” The patriarch also cited the Yugoslav State Commission for War Crimes on August 2, 1992—the same day Newsday’s “death camp” stories went on American newsstands that identified locations at Sarajevo, Tuzla, Bugojno, Bihac and Slavonski Brod where Serb women were confined, raped and murdered by Croat and Muslim soldiers.
The Romeo & Juliet “love story” wears thin before the film finally puts the audience out of its misery when Danijel shoots his Muslim lover Ajla in the head at point blank range. The last scene of the film provides a final opportunity for Jolie to demonize the Serbian people as Danijel crawls to his knees before UN police and claims several times: “I am a War Criminal, I am a War Criminal,” a remark designed to remain in the minds of the audience as they leave the theater.
The film, however, does not embrace an audience; it stuns and bludgeons them with the rape issue. Jolie does not waste a good opportunity for full-blown propaganda by ending her film credits with various war-related statistics. In bold type one reads: “50,000 Bosnian rape victims,” a number that has long been discredited numerous times over the past dozen years. If this film is being presented as fiction, these statistical records were totally out of place and were used for political reasons.
The fabrications, partisan journalism and crude propaganda of the Bosnian Civil War by the international media can be summed up by one lone account from French journalist Jerome Bony, who described in a February 4, 1993 broadcast about his trek to Tuzla, which gained notoriety as the most prominent Bosnian town for finding Muslim rape victims:
“When I was fifty kilometers from Tuzla I was told to ‘go to the Tuzla gymnasium (high school) there are 4,000 raped women.’ At twenty kilometers, this figure dropped to 400. At ten kilometers, only forty were left. Once at the site, I found only four women willing to testify.”
The Land of Blood and Honey hemorrhages vulgarity with no “honey” to sweeten the pain of multi-ethnic violence in which all sides were responsible for war crimes in a three-sided civil War.
Like the kangaroo court in The Hague, Angelina Jolie’s film continues the process of condemning the Serbian people with collective guilt—denying them equal rights and equal justice as international political leaders continue to amputate portions of Serbian territory against her will and in violation of the UN Charter in which Serbia was a founding member; the Geneva Conventions, the Helsinki Final Act, and the NATO Treaty including violating UN Resolution #1244 that guaranteed Kosovo as sovereign Serbian territory as part of the peace agreement arranged by Richard Holbrooke. Surely, Jolie cannot be this ignorant?
Actor Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie’s father, attended Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, a school built in the 1950s and named after the Croatian Roman Catholic priest who was convicted by the allies of war crimes in WWII. He spent ten years in prison for his crimes against Serbs and Jews in Croatia, perhaps a clue to Jolie’s obvious anti-Serb bias.
If this film was meant to portray Ms. Jolie’s impressions of the recent civil war, sadly she did not take advantage of her public persona to give the wounded and divided people of Bosnia a reason to heal. As a Serb, I left the screening appalled that once again the word “Serb” has been made synonymous with evil—It appears then that Blood and Honey is Angelina Jolie’s attempt at cinematic genocide.
William Dorich is the author of 6 books on Balkan history including his 1991 book, Serbian Genocide 1941-45 and his 1992 book, Kosovo. He is the recipient of the Order of St. Sava, the highest recognition given to a layperson by the Holy Synod of Serbian Orthodox Bishops; an Award of Merit from the Serbian Bar Association of America and a Freedom Award by RAS—The International Serbian Organization.
For more information about the Balkans and books offered by this writer visit:
Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting – Peter Brock
Jasenovac Then & Now—A Conspiracy of Silence – Wm. Dorich
Kosovo is Serbia – Dr. Vojin Joksimovich
Hilandar Octocentenary – Wm. Dorich
Liar’s Poker – Michel Collon