by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
A few weeks ago I saw the movie that Hollywood sex symbol Angelina Jolie wrote and directed: In the Land of Blood and Honey.
It is the most impressive debut of an auteur filmmaker since Roberto Rossellini's Rome Open City.
Yes, I said Rossellini. (OK, Roma, Città Aperta came after his anti-fascist trilogy, but it was his big international debut.)
If you take the current crop of American actor-directors — Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Ron Howard — not one of them has directed a movie which comes even close to the seriousness, intensity, depth and artistry of Jolie's rookie film.
Let alone write such a movie, which none of them can do.
Not one of them, in fact, has made an arthouse film. They don't make the kind of films you go and see at an arthouse; they make movies for duplexes.
But Jolie, in a blazing contrast, has created high-art cinema.
And not simply because of the serious nature of her subject — the brutal Bosnian War of the 1990s, when the Serbs genocided Muslims and mass-raped women in concentration camps.
But also because of her depiction of a somber love story amidst this horror.
A Serbian man and a Muslim woman meet in Bosnia, but their romance is interrupted by the war. After the war starts, they meet again, when she becomes a prisoner in a rape camp overseen by him. He intervenes to save her from being raped, and she becomes his camp concubine.
Their new relationship is lacerated by ambiguity: how in love are they? why are they in love? is sex just their closest exit from horror? are they merely taking advantage of each other? is she using him to survive, and that's all? is he using her to assuage his conscience about the atrocities he is part of, and is that all?
I've never seen a movie in which the love story was so mysterious, manifold — and real.
The most amazing thing about this film is that it is completely un-Hollywood (it also happens to be in a foreign language with subtitles). If you didn't know that Jolie had made it, you'd think it was a movie helmed by a new Eastern European genius, a la Wajda, Polanski, or Holland.
Yes, I said Wajda, Polanski, or Holland.
By un-Hollywood, I mean that nothing is sensationalized or sentimentalized or portentousized. We are shown the horrors bluntly and bleakly, yet there is an epic restraint to it all, a respect for the characters and the horror that bespeaks the control of an artist in mesmerizing command of her material and her craft. Not for her the banal sentimentality that dogs Spielberg when he tries to make a “serious” film, or the stolid middle-browness that templates everything Eastwood celluloids.
I believe that Jolie has in one movie, catapulted herself to the first rank of serious moviemakers. If she goes on like this, we may have another Kubrick on our hands.
Yes, I said Kubrick.
Now for the big question: why has Jolie's film come and gone like footsteps in the night, hardly hailed, negatively reviewed in Variety, not on the Oscar list, trumpeted by no one besides me?
The fact remains that Hollywood was and is the most sexist workplace on earth. Only one woman has ever won an Oscar for best director. Hollywood spends most of its time making action franchises for teenage boys and fratboy men.
If this movie had been made by a man, it would have been hallelujahed to the skies. If it had been made by a Hollywood actor who was a man, it would have been in the running for the Oscars.
But it was made by a woman, and by an actress known and cast for her extraordinary sexuality.
A sexuality so tabloid-powerful, no one can believe — even on the evidence of this brilliant film — that there can be any intelligence, insight and creative ambition lurking behind those lips and those eyes and that arrant female swagger (a swagger that makes Jolie one of the very few women who can be cast as an action star).
The gap between Jolie's image and what she has wrought as an artist is just too wide. Don't expect any male or female critic to be able to bridge that gap.
But not to worry,
She will make many more films.
And since she has started with a film that is a better beginning than the debuts managed by Kubrick, Scorcese or Coppola, expect her to end up in their company — and maybe surpass them.