Many people feel that love conquers all, but few think about what would happen if their connections to their loved ones drastically changed, and their allegiances grow uncertain. Angelina Jolie makes her feature film directorial and writing debut with the new war drama In the Land of Blood and Honey, which has drew controversy for focusing on the test and challenges of love during the Bosnian War.
In the Land of Blood and Honey, which is set in Sarajevo before and during the Bosnian War, follows a soldier fighting for the Bosnian Serbs, Danijel (Goran Kostic), as he re-encounters a former love, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a Bosniak woman. Danijel’s troops take Ajla from her sister Lejla’s (Vanessa Goldjo) apartment, and puts her in the camp he oversees. Danijel and Ajla’s once-promising connection is tested, as their motives and alliances have been changed by the war.
Recently, Jolie and Glodjo discussed the process of writing, directing and starring in In the Land of Blood and Honey during a live Q&A Internet chat streamed on Facebook. They also spoke about how they emotionally coped with making the film, and what it was like working together.
Question: Where did you come up with the name for the movie?
Angelina Jolie: Everything’s political. (laughs) We thought it suited, because everything’s steeped in so much history, with World War II, and hundreds of years before that. So much has happened in this part of the world, so much blood.
But to me, the honey represents this love and sweetness, even beauty, in the Balkan area. So it is that balance. It’s not beautiful, that lovely, that fun, that dark, that frightening and bloody.
Q: What is your favorite scene in the movie?
AJ: My favorite scene in the movie is when the sisters are reunited. Is that yours, Vanessa?
Vanessa Glodjo: Yes, it is. It’s really, really touching.
AJ: That means so much to me. It’s also one of the few happier times in the movie.
Q: Angelina, did you feel at any point the switch from an actress to a director was an uncomfortable one?
AJ: Yes. It’s funny. I didn’t plan on becoming a director, and I still have trouble saying I’m a director. I just wanted to tell this story. Somehow, by default, I ended up being the director.
But it was lovely to shine the spotlight on other actresses and actors, and people who are so talented. So I was never frustrated, and thought I want to be in there. I thought, they’re doing this so well, they’re giving so much, and it was so impressive to me.
I had the pleasure of just being there to witness it and harness it, and put it all together. I think being a director is a pleasure. But I wonder if it would be a pleasure with any other cast and crew, and a subject matter I didn’t care as much about, because this one was special.
Q: Do you believe this film is already bringing change?
VG: Yes. Not only do I believe that, I see that. I don’t think all of the wars will stop because of it. But I think that it will make Bosnians and Americans think about violence on the street. It will make them think that it’s not an action film, it’s a really serious film. It affects both the victims of violence, and those who caused it.
We show it in our film, with Danijel and what it does to him. It breaks him as a person, and he has no life to continue after what he goes through.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take from the film?
AJ: I hope that people go out and learn about what happened in Bosnia. I hope they have more compassion for that war, and those people, but also wars in general around the world. I know this is a small, silly thing, but I hope they go to Sarajevo. I hope they go to Bosnia.
The big part of the healing is to give back to life, and to share and exchange cultures. I hope more people are more interested and open to this part of the world.
Q: How does it feel to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award (for Best Foreign Language Film)?
AJ: As the first film I wrote and directed, it feels crazy. I think Vanessa, you and I were the first that spoke after hearing about it. I hoped that I hadn’t done all the wrong things. The most important thing to be was the reaction in Bosnia. I don’t need an award ever for anything, that is why we made this film.
But then just on top of it, as a film, to have this fun day where we all talk on the phone, saying can you believe it? Now we get to go together Sunday (to the ceremony). It also feels like the country’s coming, which is so beautiful.
Q: Angelina, you’re very engaged in humanitarian work. How did this affect the film?
AJ: I’m kind of influx right now. I go home thinking about how to make this balance of your life, I’m sure everybody does. You witness things in the world, and you become a better person. You grow up and want to do work that illustrates that need to grow.
Then there’s another part of you, that I’ve done in my life, that isn’t serious humanitarian work, that’s fun. My work’s been a lot about entertainment. It’s trying to find that balance. In order to get these kinds of films made, you have to appreciate that those other kinds of films get these movie made. But then at the same time, my heart’s drawn to do one after the other, these heavy types of films.
I’m trying to figure out emotionally, how do I find the balance, to go back and forth, which I’ve done for so long, between two worlds. There’s the lighter world that I love, and I’m silly with, and the heavier side of me. As a human being, I feel very fulfilled.
Q: Vanessa, what was it like having Angelina as a director?
VG: If you’re an actor, you would be jealous of my experience, because it was really fantastic. It was a beautiful experience. To be directed by an actress, such as Angelina, it’s amazing how far she can make you go, without pushing you, or being severe or strict. I would do it again. (laughs)
Q: War and love are complete opposites. How did you define this in the film?
AJ: They are opposites. The film begins with love. The country has love for each other. Everyone in the cast was born Yugoslavian. They all have the same history books, they’re one people. Now everybody’s kind of defied differently. They’re separated by nature.
There are many mixed marriages. The love in this film is the love between sisters, the country, mother and child and these lovers who then become each other’s enemy. So it’s the effect love and war have on love.
That’s the intention of the film. If you have friends, like Vanessa and I, who were friends when the war started, what would it take (to separate us)? We think now it’s impossible for everyone to want to kill each other. It makes no sense.
But friends like us, years on, did kill each other. The war brought out such a primal, evil thing in people, and so much fear and confusion, it broke apart this love.
VG: It’s also what you showed in the film, with Danijel, who’s actually forced to do it. He’s forced to do it because of his father. He almost doesn’t have a choice, except to get shot himself. In war, people would do things that they would never think of doing.
Q: Angelina, what was it like to be both the writer and director?
AJ: Strange, because you can’t yell at the writer. (laughs) What’s even stranger was that I wrote the film, but it’s not in my language. So maybe that helped keep me removed.
Early on, I told people not to be ashamed to tell me it’s not a good enough scene, or it’s a bad line. I won’t be upset or offended. But then when it was translated, it was strange. I could hear the responses back and forth, but I couldn’t recognize the words. So it was very unusual, but a great experience.
Q: How did you both emotionally cope with making the film?
AJ: Have we emotionally coped? (laughs) I think it was so different for both of us. For me, what was hardest was to ask people to recreate things they lived through. To ask someone to do that, you feel like you’re torturing somebody. You’re making everybody cry and go to these horrible places. But all of you gave me strength to let me know it worked.
VG: Yes. Emotionally, it was very, very engaging and demanding. But it’s what the actor wants, to ask him a lot. We want to give as much as possible. I think for you Angelina, it was very emotionally hard, I saw that. But you empathized with us.
The biggest talent Angelina has is to listen. She really wants to hear our story as actors. That really gives you a great power to say the script exactly as it was.
Q: How did everyone unwind on set after an emotional shoot?
AJ: Did we? I think a lot of people didn’t unwind. Maybe that’s because it was so hard, because everyone became such good friends. There was a lot of love and a lot of laughter. I guess that’s what it must have been like under the siege, in some way.
VG: Yes, you really get close with people in a bizarre way. With the horror that happened to us, it really unites us. We almost have fun together.
AJ: Yes, some of the scenes are so violent, as soon as they were over, everyone wanted to make up with each other. They wanted to explain that wasn’t me. It was hard to do and recreate. Whenever we were off camera, everyone was apologizing.
Q: Angelina, what are the advantages and disadvantages of directing as an actor?
AJ: On this one, I didn’t have any disadvantages. If I didn’t have such great actors, maybe I would have been frustrated, but it was so easy. I didn’t feel like anyone looked at me as an actor.
VG: It was more like a friend relationship. It really went so fast and friendly between us. It was really friendly between us. You directed us the way you would like to be directed.
AJ: Yes, I’ve been on sets where I said, I wish it wasn’t like this, or this really isn’t helping me. I’ve also been on sets where I said, I love that director, what he did really helped me. I really tried to be the best.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Angelina Jolie and Vanessa Glodjo for taking the time to talk to us. Be sure to check out In the Land of Blood and Honey, which is now in select theaters.