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17th Sarajevo Film Festival: The Angelina Jolie saga in Bosnia-Herzegovina

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By Nadine Ravaud

A “goodwill ambassador” since 2001 for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, famous Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie has visited Bosnia-Herzegovina several times since 2010.

Occasionally accompanied by her husband Brad Pitt, she has raised awareness about the continuing suffering of displaced persons and supported projects meant to help Bosnian refugees who cannot return home (Some 7.000 people live in dozens of refugee centers throughout the country. The other 110.000 live primarily with relatives or in rented housing).

Last year saw a controversy about her directorial debut – “''In the Land of Blood and Honey''” to be released in the United States on December 23 of this year, just in time for Oscar consideration. The film is a love story between a Bosnian Muslim woman and Bosnian Serb man beginning on the eve of the country’s war in the early 1990s.

The problems began when local media reported that the film featured scenes in which a Bosnian Muslim rape victim falls in love with her Serbian attacker. The very vocal Association of Women Victims of War complained to the Bosnian authorities, and Jolie’s filming permit was temporarily revoked. The green light was eventually given after Gavrilo Grahovac, the Federal Minister for Culture and Sports, read the screenplay. However, by then production had to be moved mostly to Hungary.

The Association still criticises the project after Jolie failed to meet members to discuss the story. “Angelina Jolie's ignorant attitude towards victims says enough about the scenario and gives us the right to continue having doubts about it,” Bakira Hasečić, the Association's President, told news agency AFP. It was later revealed that Jolie had invited the victims to meet her in Hungary, but they had refused the invitation.

Angelina Jolie Zana Marjanović and Goran Kostić in Jolie’s latest movieIn the meantime, Jolie has given interviews to underline that she has researched the issue extensively and insists that she “"wanted to tell a story of how human relationships and behavior are deeply affected by living inside a war”. The movie is filmed in both English and the local languages.

To Jolie’s credit, the movie's cast mainly consists of actors from the former Yugoslavia. You may not know Rade Šerbedžija’s name , but his face should be instantly familiar, either thanks to his performance as an opportunistic costume shop owner in Eyes Wide Shut, the dangerous Boris the Blade in Snatch, a few memorable moments in Batman Begins, or even his recurring role as former Soviet Army General in the sixth season of TV action series 24.

In this impossible romance, the Serb soldier is played by Goran Kostić, a Bosnian actor who is based in the United Kingdom. In 2007, he played the Polish builder Erek in the BBC soap opera EastEnders. In the female lead, Jolie has cast the largely unknown Zana Marjanović. She actually played Alma in the 2008 drama Snijeg (Snow in English) – previously shown as the opening movie at the 14th Sarajevo Film Festival.

Rumors in Hungary – in the central town of Kiskunlacháza where the movie is now mostly filmed – are that Brad Pitt will appear as a soldier trying to escape a military facility through a curtain of sniper fire and shot to death. Gossip has yet to tell whether Jolie’s debut as a director strikes a sensitive balance between passionate but impossible love and war madness in a concentration camp.

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