Angelina Jolie’s passion put her behind camera for Bosnian War drama ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’
“Hi, I’m Angie.”
An understatement, of course, yet perfectly apt for Angelina Jolie as she walks into a room, accessible and upfront. The Oscar-winning actress can own a place and be just a part of it at the same time. Sitting down with one of the stars of her writing-directing debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” she’s both magnetic and magnanimous.
“Blood and Honey,” opening in New York Dec. 23 and nationwide in January, is a riveting drama set during the genocidal Bosnian War of the 1990s. Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a Bosnian Muslim woman, is beginning a relationship with Serbian policeman Danijel (Goran Kostic) when the strife encompassing the former Yugoslavia erupts around them.
As Serbs round up and kill Bosnian men and force Bosnian women into camps, where they are systematically raped, Danijel brings Alija to the prison that’s under his command. However, Danijel — whose father (Rade Serbedzija) is a general in the Serbian army — struggles with his loyalties to his homeland, his history and his heart.
The movie is both a far cry from what Jolie’s fans may expect, and yet couldn’t be closer to her heart. “I never intended to write and direct a film,” Jolie says. “But after going to a lot of countries over 10 years and meeting people post-conflict in places like Afghanistan or Darfur, where the question of intervention comes up, I wanted to express a story [about\] how war changes people. “It’s not just simply about war. It’s about how human beings break down when surrounded by such ugliness and hate. And how decent people can be broken.”
Jolie, 36, was named a goodwill ambassador with the UN Refugee Agency in 2001. When she isn’t traveling for humanitarian causes, the superstar mother of six sharing her life with another superstar — Brad Pitt — makes films for a global market (“Salt,” “Wanted,” “Mrs. and “Mrs. Smith”) and some on a more personal scale (“A Mighty Heart,” “Beyond Borders”).
As she sits with Serbedzija — the veteran Croatian actor whose stardom in his country includes a successful career as a musician and whose work includes roles in “Mission: Impossible II,” “X-Men: First Class” and on TV’s “24” — Jolie is unfazed from a year of “Blood and Honey.
Just before filming began last year, the Bosnian-Croat culture minister threatened to suspend her filming permit over the movie’s content. Jolie says the objections came from people who hadn’t read the script. Then Bosnian women’s groups protested the film before being assured it wouldn’t sensationalize the subject matter. The new offscreen drama is a lawsuit filed by a Croatian journalist in Illinois who claims the film took ideas from a book. But all of this doesn’t scare a woman who’s not easily intimidated. Jolie even made the entire movie in both English and the Serbo-Croatian language called BHS. (Every scene was filmed twice, one for each version.) The subtitled version will be released in the U.S.
And, aside from Serbedzija, she hired unknown actors, many of whom experienced the war firsthand. First off, though, Jolie wants to shoot down the misconception that the movie is “Romeo and Juliet” set in the Balkans. “This story is the opposite — it’s two people from the same side who are told that they’re different, and cannot be together. … It’s not a love story. It’s what would have been a love story if not for the war. “There is a lot of love in it — between a father who, for all his faults, loves his son; between a mother and her child; between sisters — and it’s a love story to a country. But it’s about how war changes and warps us, and makes love impossible.”
Serbedzija, whose career in the West occurred after he and his family fled the Balkans to go to London, was at an event for his music when violence erupted. “In ’92, I’d gone to Sarajevo’s main square, where 200,000 people had come,” he recalls. “One of my songs, ‘Never Against the Friends I’ve Known,’ was a popular antiwar song after fighting broke out in Croatia a year earlier. “And I was talking to the crowd when men started shooting from atop a building. Shortly after, we moved to London.” Serbedzija organized several benefit concerts there and in New York, with celebrities raising awareness for refugee issues.
For Jolie, it was her late mother, Marcheline Bertrand, and seeing the world that influenced her sense of advocacy.
“I’m sure a lot of it is from my mom. She brought me to my first Amnesty International dinner when I was a kid,” Jolie says. “So I was raised a bit like that. But it was when I started to travel — the first time I went to a war zone, in Sierra Leone, was over a decade ago — that made me understand what the world is like if you step back and look at it.”
“The world thinks they know Angelina Jolie,” says Serbedzija, who compares her style to Clint Eastwood’s, a filmmaker they’ve both worked with.
“They do not know her at all.”
While her family is the subject of constant media scrutiny, Jolie says the attention she and Pitt receive does have one benefit. “Sometimes, you just jump into things because you’re compelled to tell a story and learn about a situation,” she says. “But this is a difficult subject matter to get funded and get made. So if that part of the business that you don’t like helps to get something like ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ made, it balances out.”