When Angelina Jolie's "In the Land of Blood and Honey" premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday night, her partner Brad Pitt was content to accompany Jolie on the red carpet and then sit back and appreciate, if not enjoy, the show. Jolie is the first to agree that her drama about the doomed sexual relationship between a Muslim Bosnian artist and a Christian Serbian soldier in war-torn Bosnia and Herzogovina in the 1990s is not easy to watch.
"I know it's a hard movie to sit through," the articulate Jolie told Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic (2006 Golden Bear winner for "Grbavica") in a probing question-and-answer session onstage following the screening. "It's supposed to be. To me, it's the story of the war. Please, international community, stop this: That's the 'ask' of the film."
A man in the audience shouted out "Syria right now." Jolie immediately agreed: "Syria right now."
Jolie, dressed in a golden evening gown, presented a glittering contrast to the increasingly filthy mustard-colored sweater her heroine Ajla (Zana Marjanovic, also in attendance) wore throughout the drama that preceded the discussion. The writer-producer-director, who will next appear in the Disney revisionist fairy tale "Maleficent," was generous and at ease as she answered Zbanic's questions following a standing ovation for the film, which received a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language feature but failed to obtain an Oscar nomination.See showtimes for your favorite movies >>
Zbanic asked "What was your inner need to do this movie?"
Jolie's initial response was practiced, more intellectual than emotional. "I traveled for over 10 years and was frustrated by the violence against women and the lack of intervention. How could friends and lovers and neighbors become enemies? -- because I couldn't understand it. I researched Bosnia because it happened to our generation…to give myself homework. The more I learned, the more compelled I was to make the film."
Zbanic pushed back, "But what was the spark, the emotional moment?"
Jolie answered: "I met a woman who was a victim of war, an extraordinarily damaged woman who had been used as a human shield and was one of the many older women who were forced to strip in front of soldiers. We were two women sitting alone in a dark room. I had that feeling when you just talk to one other human and you realize you have a moral responsibility. That's what it was that eventually became the film."
"I would only make it if both sides of the conflict would come together to make it," Jolie continued in a soft, steady voice. "This cast is talented and really courageous, and taught me more about life than any other experience….They came together across racial and ethnic lines."
Zbanic probed the difficult, ambiguous relationship between Ajla and Danijel (Goran Kostic) at the film's core. The drama begins as a date between an attractive couple at a Sarajevo disco, and ends with Danijel holding Ajla captive behind enemy lines. Zbanic asked, "The most powerful thing is the ambivalence of sex and politics — I was not sure if she is manipulating him, or she is in a passionate relationship or love?
Jolie answered: "Danijel is the arc. He's the war. In the beginning there is unity. Then there is the past, and you resist, and you don't want to kill your neighbor. The couple is true to that arc. They were pushed apart. He is unable to stand up against his father, the past, nationalism. Blinded by the war, he loses his humanity. And he does this thing he would not do. …It was a metaphor."
"It's not a documentary," Jolie continued. "There is dramatic license. Her feelings for him are ambiguous. To kill someone is not an easy choice."
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"What is the takeaway?" asked Zbanic.
"That the audience would relate to them," Jolie answered. "So, when you see a bomb exploded on TV, it would be familiar. That was the reason to make the film."
In the film, Jolie bears dramatic witness to the Bosnian-Serbian conflict, but it's her intent to give war a human face. The movie ends with the notation that 50,000 women were raped in that conflict.
It seemed in Berlin at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele on Saturday night that the international audience did not share the American reluctance to let Jolie escape her glamorous sex symbol straightjacket. Some stars are content to write big checks; Jolie wrote and cashed a check using a talent and compassion that exceeds her star wattage. And Pitt was at her side, beaming with pride.
See the trailer for 'In the Land of Blood and Honey':