Hollywood star Angelina Jolie canceled her premiere appearance in Belgrade at her film In the Land of Blood and Honey, due to threats of violence.
The movie is a love story set amid the brutal crimes of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war. But it has drawn furious headlines and condemnation in Serbia where critics say the film is biased, depicting only Serbian aggression against Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats.
In the Bosnian capital Sarajevo last week, the film received a standing ovation from the thousands in attendance. In Belgrade, the film opened on Thursday in just two theaters and without any promotional advertising.
Many Serbs say they are tired of being branded the villains by the international community, arguing that atrocities were common from all sides during the conflict.
For Ana Marjanovic, the film was “way too one sided.” Even if Jolie had wanted to make a statement, she said, “it’s lost, at least for the people in Serbia because of that, and that’s too bad.”
Many Serbs share a deep sense of frustration - one often fueled by political rhetoric - that Serbia’s image has not improved even with the passing years.
“For many Serbs it seems there is a constant campaign against Serbs that goes on in official politics, and this turmoil around the Angelina Jolie movie is only a new proof they would believe that the international community are actually against the Serbs," said history professor Predrag Markovic.
'War against civilian population'
Set during the war, the movie portrays a tragic love story between a young Bosnian woman and the Serb soldier in charge of the detention camp where she is held. The scenes of women being raped and mass killings are graphic.
Serbs have been reluctant to examine their own role in the war, but Milos Urosovic said his country needs to come to terms with the atrocities committed. "[Jolie] shows really a picture of the war in Bosnia," Urosovic said. "This was not a civil war. This was a war against civilian population.”
The film opens at a critical time in Serbia, just ahead of national elections, and at the height of frustration over Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.
Film Director Stevan Filipovic, whose 2010 film about neo-Nazi football hooligans won acclaim, said the nationalist ideology in Serbia has left little room for public debate.
"The nationalists are just finding the ways to promote their idea," he said. "All the hype about the film that Angelina Jolie made as a director is not actually directed at the movie itself.”
Markovic and other critics say they are not denying what happened during the war. But they point to crimes committed by other sides.
Jolie said she hoped her film about rape and brutality in the Bosnia war would open dialogue in the scarred region. At the cinema in Belgrade Thursday night, most Serbs said that the film did little more than underscore the worst stereotypes.