The Hollywood diva Angelina Jolie celebrated her turn to directing at the Berlin Film Festival yesterday, defending her debut feature In the Land of Blood and Honey. The war drama, shot in Bosnia and Hungary, is set during the Yugoslav conflict of the 1990s, and draws attention to the rapes of Bosnian Muslim women by Serb militia.
The story focuses on the relationship between a Muslim painter, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), and a Bosnian Serb officer, Danijel (Goran Kostic), who becomes her jailer and lover.
At the very least, In the Land of Blood and Honey is serious minded, solidly directed and altogether un-Hollywoodian. The film, scripted by Jolie, was shown in Germany in its Bosnian-language version (an English version was also shot), and elicited some boos at its press show – although, since its US release in December, it has received its share of cautious critical approval, and a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign-language film.
The film has also been accused of exploiting the plight of Bosnian women and attacked as anti-Serb. The Croatian-born author James Braddock also sued Jolie and her producers, claiming she took the story from his book The Soul Shattering.
At her Berlin press conference, Jolie denied that she was painting a black-and-white picture of the conflict. "I didn't want to point fingers – maybe at the international community, but other than that, not at anyone else."
Jolie, known for her activity as a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, said she was motivated by a desire to stay informed about the world. "I've done the best I could to educate myself on different conflicts and post-conflict situations, and there are certain conflicts that have broken my heart, and certain issues I've been compelled to speak about because they mattered so much to me. I wanted to tell this story because I was 17 when the war started. I felt a human responsibility to educate myself about a war that happened in my generation."
She also defended the violence in the film, including a scene in which Serbian soldiers throw a baby to its death. "Everybody who lived through this war knows that what you see on film is a small piece of how horrible it actually was. But it should be hard to watch; if I see a war film that's too easy to watch I don't feel comfortable."
After directing this film, Jolie admitted, it will be harder to go back to regular Hollywood fare, although she's prepared to give herself a break with something lighter. "I haven't acted for two years. The next thing I'm looking at is a Disney movie."
For the ticket-buying public, the hottest buzz at the festival has been for this weekend's premiere of Iron Sky, a Finnish-made sci-fi comedy about a Nazi colony based on the Moon, which launches an attack on New York. The $10m film, Finland's most expensive production ever, was partly funded with $1m donated by fans online. Its director, Timo Vuorensola – whose other career is as a heavy metal singer – made his name with an online spoof, Star Wreck, that was downloaded four million times. Due for UK release in April, Iron Sky has been the Berlinale's surprise hot ticket, outsold only by Don: The King Is Back, the latest vehicle for Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, a long-time favourite with Berlin crowds.