Before we get to the controversy that has quietly buzzed about Angelina’s debut (narrative) directorial effort, In The Land of Blood and Honey, take a look at the trailer. While cut with an exceedingly saccharine hand, it still looks like a polished, well-rendered story that bodes well for Jolie’s skills as a director. The story follows a romance in which two sides of a brutal atrocity are represented in lovers in an impossible situation. You know, the usual.
To me that pretty much looks like what I would expect of a vanity project from a focused public humanitarian that also runs in the right circles to have surrounded herself with good people, and spent plenty of time honing her craft. The problem comes though, when you look a bit deeper into the story she apparently wrote in mere days, and the odd perspective from which she has apparently chosen to tell it.
The core of the controversy surrounding the film is a claim by a Croatian-Bosnian author that Jolie outright ripped off his 2007 novel The Soul Shattering by pilfering the specific romantic set-up and conflict. He outlines his specific complaints, the parallels between the stories, and the timeline (as he sees it) in a detailed statement on his website right here (warning, there are spoilers for Jolie’s movie involved). The author Josip J. Knezevic (who oddly goes by the english pen-name James J. Braddock, i.e the Cinderella Man boxer) also takes issue with Jolie’s anecdote of writing the script while holed up two days with the flu, while reading no books and watching no TV. He details nearly a year’s worth of attempts to communicate with the director and studio to no avail. Finally, he points out that the film likely pilfered its title from Martin Van Creveld’s book The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel, which was published last year (amazon link). It’s true that I can’t find many references to that phrase online outside of the book and now the movie, but there is history to that little poetic phrase (supposedly “The Balkans” refers to the Turkish words “bal” and “kan” that mean “honey” and “blood” respectively).
Now plenty of the author’s complaints are written out of anger or from his very specific perspective, but he makes some interesting points and presents enough of an argument that Jolie should at least openly acknowledge the dispute. From what I can tell, she has not done so in any detail. The novel is not well known, having only been published in a few countries (though it was well respected in those places). Knevezic claims to have sent the manuscript and translations to more than enough producers, publishers, and others that an English translation of the book would not have been hard to come by for the actress.
Even beyond this one man’s issues, the film has long been encountering controversy over its narrative content (many women’s groups that emerged from the Serbian/Bosnian conflict have protested it), its filming location choices, and more. Even some of Jolie’s related humanitarian efforts are pointed out as an endorsement of a Serbian para-state that is acknowledged by the UN and many countries, but has an origin in ethnic cleansing and war. Essentially Jolie is stomping about in a shit-storm of conflict and war-torn emotions in the service of her little love story, and she’s more than pissed a few people off. Some women’s groups even feel she is altering history and writing a new truth about mass rape and atrocities during the Serbian conflict, by telling the story of a loving aggressor and an acquiescing captive. There’s a dangerous line being tread over telling an artist what story they can and can not tell, but the point remains: abused women’s groups are upset, and that ain’t the same as Catholics picketing the latest Kevin Smith stoner comedy or whatever.
CHUD reader Christoph Topitschnig first brought this up with me some weeks ago, but I’ve taken my time looking into it and waiting for the movie to get itself together. Now that the December 23rd release date approaches and we have a good look at the film (and the parallels are now more clearly visible), it felt like the time to share. Oddly, I haven’t seen a ton of attention focused on the issues, and the Yahoo article covering it a little while back seems to have been removed (link is a Google cached-version). I find that odd.
I can’t claim to have a well-rounded understanding of the conflicts and controversies at play here, certainly not one with enough depth to make a judgement call. I can say that there is a compelling case out there that Jolie may have something to answer for, and I hope she does so as the film gathers more attention. It’s certainly not definitive that she ripped off her film or has done anything wrong at all, but she would do well to be sensitive to the claim more than waving it off in press conferences.
If you care to look deeper into this yourself, take a look at these background materials and let me know what you think. I’m definitely interested in hearing more opinions and getting a better idea what’s up with this movie. Perhaps this has all been debunked someplace I didn’t run across, or maybe the hole goes much deeper. I can’t imagine the questioning won’t get more intense as Jolie’s publicity tour ramps up, so surely answers will come…
Trailer via Awards Daily