In the 1990s, in the wreckage of Sarajevo during the wrath of the Bosnian War, Danijel is a soldier fighting for the Bosnian Serbs. In a prisoner camp led by his strict father, the ruthless Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) general Nebojša, he finds Ajla, his former love, who is a Bosniak (a Bosnian Muslim) and therefore a prisoner. The Bosnian Serb policy against Bosniaks, and the secrecy of their relationship before the war, may endanger the lives of the former lovers.Goran Kostić as Danijel
Zana Marjanovic as Ajla
Vanessa Glodjo as Lejla
Rade Šerbedžija as Nebojša
Feđa Štukan as Petar
Nikola Đuričko as Darko
Branko Đurić as Aleksandar
Jelena Jovanova as Esma
Alma Terzić as Hana
Miloš Timotijević as Durja
Džana Pinjo as Nadja
Dolya Gavanski as Maida
Boris Ler as Tarik
Ermin Bravo as Mehmet
Goran Jevtić as Mitar
Jolie got the idea to write a script of a wartime love story after traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a U.N. goodwill ambassador. While writing the script she consulted with Richard Holbrooke, a U.S. diplomat and high-ranking Clinton Administration official who was one of the architects of the Dayton Agreement that put an end to the Bosnian War, General Wesley Clark, who was the director for strategic plans and policy on the United States Department of Defense's Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war, and Tom Gjelten, a foreign correspondent for NPR. After finishing the screenplay, she secured a production team and financing for the project that was being called "Untitled Bosnian Love Story." When it came down for the production team to choose a director, Jolie realized she herself wanted to direct. When casting calls and auditions were held, her name was deliberately withheld from all aspects of the project. When it was revealed to the cast that Angelina Jolie wrote the script, a number of them expressed pleasant surprise.
In July 2010, with the film already in pre-production, the producers approached the Serbian tycoon and media magnate Željko Mitrović over the usage of the sound stages and studio sets owned by his Pink International Company's subsidiary Pink Films International in Šimanovci. However, he refused to do business with them, releasing a press statement: "I've held great affection and admiration for Angelina Jolie both as a person and as an artist, but unfortunately she's full of prejudice against the Serbs. I do not wish to be part of something that for the umpteenth time presents the Serbs as eternal bad guys."
The film was shot in Budapest and Esztergom during October and November 2010. The cast were entirely local actors from various parts of former Yugoslavia, many of whom lived through the war. Jolie said she spoke with the cast about their experiences during the war and tried to incorporate them into the film. The film was also shot in two versions – one in English, the other in Serbo-Croatian.
Jolie explained the reason she wrote and directed the film was to rekindle attention for the survivors of a war that took place in recent history. In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Jolie said she felt a responsibility to learn about the conflict in great detail, adding, "This was, you know, the worst genocide since World War II in Europe ... What were we all doing? And did we do enough? And why do we not speak about this enough?" Responding to claims that her film was not balanced, she stated that "The war was not balanced. I can't understand people who are looking for a balance that did not exist. There are some people who don't want to be reminded of these things, some even who deny that these things even happened. Those people are going to be angry."
During production, it was falsely reported that the story was about a Bosnian woman falling in love with her Serbian rapist, prompting protests from the Bosnian Women Victims of War association and the revocation of the filming permit. Jolie denied the rumors and presented the script to Bosnia's ministry of culture, which then quickly reinstated the permit.
In September 2011, the Bosnian Croat author Josip Knežević, aka James J. Braddock, accused Jolie of plagiarizing his story Slamanje duše (The Soul Shattering), which was published in December 2007. He claimed to have made repeated attempts to contact the film's producers during the production phase, but they ignored him. He then announced his intention to sue Jolie. On 2 December 2011, he filed a lawsuit against Jolie, GK Films, FilmDistrict, Scout Film (a production company based in Bosnia), and producer Edin Šarkić before the U.S. District Court in Chicago that has jurisdiction over Northern Illinois.
Asked to comment during an interview with Los Angeles Times, Jolie dismissed Knežević's claims: "It's par for the course. It happens on almost every film. There are many books and documentaries that I did pull from, such as work by journalists Peter Maas and Tom Gjelten. It's a combination of many people's stories. But that particular book I've never seen."
In July 2012 the case was transferred to the District Court with jurisdiction over Central California. On 29 March 2013, judge Dolly Gee ruled that no breach of copyright had occurred thus deciding in favor of Jolie, concluding that the two stories were not similar because "Blood and Honey is primarily a story of betrayal, revenge and tragedy with little or no hope, while Slamanje duše focuses on family, love and strength". adding that "although Blood and Honey is also a story of love, it highlights the complications of romantic love during wartime", that "Braddock could not have invented the concept of rape as a war crime", and that similarities are not strong enough particularly in light of the fact that those overlapping concepts are commonplace in books and films depicting war".
Braddock appealed the decision, filing a motion with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on 11 March 2014 on the basis that his work was translated incorrectly.
Film writers expressed mixed feelings after viewing a trailer for the film. Christiane Amanpour, a journalist who covered the Bosnian War for CNN, introduced the film at the New York premiere on December 5, 2011, calling it "remarkable and courageous". The premiere after-party was held at The Standard hotel's rooftop in New York and was co-sponsored by the US foreign policy think tank Council on Foreign Relations (of which Angelina Jolie has been a member since July 2007) and Women for Women International, a women's rights organization. The film's script consultant, general Wesley Clark, was also on hand at the premiere, calling the film "incredible."
Writing in The Washington Post, the columnist Richard Cohen praised the film, seeing it as an indictment of the hesitant American reaction to the atrocities committed by Serbs against Bosniaks in Bosnia as well as an endorsement of American-led foreign interventionism such as the military action in Libya.
After the film was shown to non-Serb victims in a special screening in Sarajevo, Murat Tahirović, the head of association of prisoners of war, stated that Jolie "really succeeded in telling the story of the whole war in her film and to show the most characteristic situations that detainees faced – mass executions, rapes, [being used as] human shields and all the other horrors." The head of an association of mothers of Srebrenica massacre victims, Hatidza Mehmedović – who had earlier spoken out against Jolie after the media rumours regarding the film – said the final product was "really an excellent movie," "objective and sincere," and wanted to "thank Angelina for her intellectual and financial investment."
Talking about the film during an appearance on Croatian talk show Nedjeljom u 2, Srđan Dragojević, a Serbian film director, said: "It's a very bad movie. I find it interesting that someone spent $12-13 million for something that in the end looks like those Croatian or Bosniak patriotic propaganda films from the 1990s. In the Land of Blood and Honey has the historical authenticity of 'Allo 'Allo!. It's completely senseless, badly directed, badly written, and deserves absolutely no attention at all, but for the fact it's got the name of a global film star attached to it. And having worked in Hollywood and interacted with some if its movie stars, I think I know how this film got made. Being a big star does not always work to your advantage. These people live their sheltered and insular Beverly Hills lives and have very little clue about what's going on 15 miles away in The Valley, let alone half a world away in Bosnia. This film is a very strange attempt at tackling something you're absolutely clueless about; it would be like me writing a story about American suburbia using news reports as the basis. It seems like nobody had enough courage to tell Angelina that during the making of the film".
In the Serbian media, the film received more negative reviews, arguing that the film ignored Serbian war victims and unfairly presented Serbs as evildoers. Some critics went as far as calling it a "propaganda film."
By March 8, 2012, the film had recorded domestic box office sales of $308,877.
The film has received generally mixed reviews. On June 19, 2013, the aggregate film review website Rotten Tomatoes showed that, based on 78 reviews, In the Land of Blood and Honey received a positive response from 55% of critics with an average rating of 5.9/10.
Though feeling In the Land of Blood and Honey "has you dreading to learn what atrocity awaits around the next corner", The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy also thinks Jolie "deserves significant credit for creating a powerfully oppressive atmosphere and staging the ghastly events so credibly."
Variety's Justin Chang penned a negative review of the movie, labeling it a "dramatically misguided attempt to renew public awareness of the 1992–95 Balkan conflict" that "springs less from artistic conviction than from an over-earnest humanitarian impulse." He didn't like the way the film "almost seems to sense its scenario tilting into tarted-up banality and abruptly shifts gears, to shockingly blunt effect" and criticized the actors for being a bit colorless, especially Marjanović and Kostić who "don't seem entirely at home with their characters' fairly risible dynamic."
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times has some issues with the way certain characters' dialogues are used as "short history lesson on the region that's clearly meant for the benefit of those watching the movie", but for the most part feels the movie "moves briskly and easily holds your attention, largely through a perverse love story that doesn't suffer for being such an obvious metaphor for the larger battle raging beyond Ajla and Danijel's relationship."
Jake Coyle of Associated Press wrote a negative review in which he gives Jolie some credit for "using her celebrity to bring attention to the dangers of pacifism in the face of war crimes and ethnic cleansing", but criticizes her for "a heavy-handed touch" as well as for "putting politics ahead of story and character, thus blatantly imposing a message, which results in a movie whose narrative feels like a fictionalized United Nations presentation." He also has problems with the way the story is told – from "not enough context given to the overall conflict", over to "the love story that feels increasingly myopic as the war drags on and the film's ambitions broaden", and finally the way the film "makes its case only in the illustration of extreme, intolerable violence instead of finding a way to dramatize international inaction."
Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News sees the biggest accomplishment of In the Land of Blood and Honey to be "the way it never loses sight of the closeness of the combatants, turning national intimacy into a tragic casualty." He goes on to commend the actors for "their commitment that helps us through a movie that is often harrowing, never less than intense but important, one unafraid of moments too many have chosen to forget."
According to Los Angeles Times resident critic Kenneth Turan Jolie accomplished something that "is both impressive and unexpected." However, "The Ajla/Danijel relationship is not always convincing, key plot points can feel contrived and the preponderance of Bosnian Serb bad guys comes off as schematic." He further points out Lu Chuan's film City of Life and Death as an example of "how far In the Land of Blood and Honey needs to travel." He writes that Jolie has accomplished a great deal in a difficult area. "She has done her homework about the conflict's disturbing, unflinching atrocities as well as the rationales the Bosnian Serbs used for their actions.
The Village Voice's Karina Longworth's review is particularly negative. She dismisses the movie as "a United Nations extra-credit project about the Bosnian War" and criticizes Jolie for "producing a sanctimonious vanity commercial for her own good intentions."
Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club refers to In the Land of Blood and Honey as "a film of shuddering earnestness and fevered good intentions gone awry, a dreary slog of a message movie with little but noble if unfulfilled aspirations to commend it." He continues by opining that "Serbian groups have justifiably complained about Jolie’s glib stereotyping of Serbs as racist heavies" before concluding that "Jolie has, after disastrously received 2003 message movie Beyond Borders, once again succeeded in attracting international attention to international atrocities and it's possible, if not particularly likely, that someday she will get around to dramatizing atrocities compellingly as well".
Screen International's Howard Feinstein commended Jolie for "attempting to rectify the gross injustices perpetrated against the Muslims that were tolerated in the name of a mythological Greater Serbia, masterminded by Slobodan Milošević", while reproaching her for "going beyond acceptable dramatic license and presenting the Serbs as caricatures". He furthermore has issues with her script "that often misses the boat" and its "over- and under-drawn characters."
In the Dutch daily De Volkskrant, Bor Beekman slated In the Land of Blood and Honey as "messy, unnatural war porno" and gave the film one star out of five. Beekman regarded the plot as rambling, and replete with implausible developments. Most objectionable was the unnatural dialogue, which rubs in the meaning of war dilemmas some more, as if they were not already made obvious (in scenes of gruesome cruelty). Typifying is the scene where Ajla, the Bosnian Muslim, hides behind a corpse during a solitary escape through the forest. The scene is completely gratuitous, but it supplies Jolie with a compelling visual image. "However well-intentioned, it is war porno."