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January 08, 2012

Hollywood Films Focus on Women Abused in Bosnian War

by Alan Silverman

Angelina Jolie makes her directing debut with a powerful drama set amid the "ethnic cleansing" of the Bosnian War. The drama, and another film on the atrocities in Bosnia, are drawn from true stories of brutality toward women in that 1990's conflict.





"Who were you …before the war?" asks Serbian commander Danijel of his captive, a Muslim woman named Ajila from Sarajevo. Their complicated relationship plays out during In The Land of Blood and Honey, written and directed by actress and human rights activist Angelina Jolie.

"I just wanted to tell a story about human beings from all sides and how war affects them," explains Jolie.

Her visits to refugee camps and war zones as United Nations goodwill ambassador motivated Jolie to research and write the script about the systematic rapes and murders during the Bosnian conflict.

"When I started to look into it and I traveled to the region, I felt that I should have known more. This was in my generation and how do I not know enough? And why did it take us so long? Then at some point there was this script and it just sat on my desk for a while until Brad saw it one day and convinced me to show it to somebody and try," Jolie says.

'Brad,' of course, is her husband and fellow celebrity, Brad Pitt. Concerned that it might appear to be a Hollywood star's 'vanity' project, Jolie kept her name off the script that was initially sent to cast members like Zana Marjanovic, who plays Ajila.

"I think, first of all, that it's a very truthful representation of Bosnia. I am from a mixed marriage," notes Marjanovic.  "A lot of my friends are. And it's about all these beautiful things that could have happened between these people and the war made it impossible. That's actually my personal feeling toward the country where I was born and where I live now."

Serbian actors play the militia men who brutalize their Muslim women captives. Goran Kostic co-stars as Danijel, the troubled commander and Ajila's lover. He says his character does not represent all Serbians.

"The guilt is individual. We can not possibly blame a side and say all of the Serbs are the same or vice versa. I think everybody understands the nature of conflict, that no side is a clean side or the 'right' side. But we as artists have a duty to criticize ourselves, and I would expect that other artists from different groups in different countries would have the same strength and courage to criticize themselves."



In The Land of Blood and Honey
is not the only cinematic portrayal of brutality against women during the Bosnian War. As If I Am Not There is based on a novel by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic. It was made into a film by Irish writer-director Juanita Wilson.

"I think there are so many people living with the devastating consequences that it will take a long time for it to heal," Wilson says, "but I firmly believe that telling stories is a really important part of healing and until people have that voice and can portray what has happened to them, that there never will be any understanding between any of us on this planet."

Like Wilson, Jolie hopes her film can help bring understanding.

"I hope it brings dialogue in the region and around the world …and that people remember this time," Jolie says. "Many people who have seen the film said to me 'I feel ashamed' and there are many people who should."

Angelina Jolie's In The Land of Blood and Honey is currently at American theaters. Juanita Wilson's As If I Am Not There is Ireland's submission for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.