Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie has won praise for her directing debut — a powerful story of love amid the atrocities of the Bosnian war — from both film critics and victims’ relatives.
The Hollywood "A" lister is used to being feted for her performances in films ranging from "Girl, Interrupted" — which won her the best supporting actress Academy Award in 2000 — to the "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" movies.
But she has also been an ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees since 2001, and has drawn on that experience in the making of "In the Land of Blood and Honey," due out in the United States later this month.
The movie tells the story of a Serb soldier who re-meets a former lover, a Bosnian woman now held captive in the camp he oversees during the dark days of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
"It’s very difficult to make me sit and see this for two hours, it’s so hard to watch, so you can imagine living it for years, as many of our cast did," she told reporters at a press screening in Hollywood on Thursday.
"We want people to feel what it is like to live in war, and we also want to people who watch this movie to pray that … something will stop this," she added.
The film’s cast are all local actors who lived through the conflict as the former Yugoslavia was ripped apart, and the movie was made in Bosnia and Budapest, in two languages: English and Serbo-Croatian.
British journalist Christiane Amanpour, who covered the Balkan wars including the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo for the CNN television news network, calls the movie "really brave, very tough and courageous."
In an interview with Amanpour on ABC television last week, Jolie said the Bosnian conflict was "our generation’s war."
"This was, you know, the worst genocide since World War II in Europe," she said, adding: "What were we all doing? And did we do enough? And why do we not speak about this enough?"
"And so I wanted to learn. I felt a responsibility to learn," added Jolie, who lives with actor Brad Pitt and is the mother of six children, three of them adopted.
Talking to Newsweek — whose interviewer marveled at Jolie’s attention to authentic detail despite being only 17 when the war erupted — the actress said her UN ambassador role helped her develop the habit of learning in depth.
"When I go somewhere, I am always willing to learn about it. I get briefings, I read books, I talk to people," the 36-year-old told the US magazine.
"But mainly I try to go somewhere to bring awareness, to come home and pick up the phone and call someone and try to get something done," she added.
The film has also won praise from Bosnian war victims’ groups.
"This movie is deeply moving for the victims who experienced all of these things," Murat Tahirovic, who heads an association of prisoners of war, told AFP after a special screening in Sarajevo on Friday.
"It is completely objective and it really tells the facts of what happened during the war."
Hatidza Mehmedovic, head of an association of mothers of Srebrenica massacre victims — the 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 — also paid tribute to the US actress.
"It will never be possible to make a movie that would show everything that went on in Bosnia during the war," she said.
"But this movie is objective and sincere," she said, adding that she wanted to "thank Angelina for her intellectual and financial investment in making this movie that will tell the world the truth about Bosnia’s war."
Weeks ahead of the film’s US release, a Croatian journalist, James Braddock, filed a lawsuit in Illinois on December 2 claiming copyright infringement over his book "The Soul Shattering," published in 2007.
Jolie dismisses the claim. "It’s par for the course. It happens on almost every film. There are many books and documentaries that I did pull from. It’s a combination of many people’s stories," she told the Los Angeles Times. "But that particular book I’ve never seen."
"In the Land of Blood and Honey" is due to be released in a limited number of theaters in the United States on December 23, and in the Netherlands, Turkey, Belgium and France in February.