In a December 2011 interview, Angelina Jolie said that the message of the film with which she has made her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was one of tolerance and understanding.
But given its subject matter, the wartime Bosnia of the 1990s, it has had a hostile reception in some quarters of the Balkans, especially some spots not previously known for tolerance and understanding. In Serbia, where some detractors have seen her as deliberately targeting ethnic Serbs, Jolie has been described in a headline as a "jerk".
Speaking in the December interview with the Voice of Amercia, Jolie said "the more I learned about it (the war in Bosnia) and the more I read about it, the more angry I got about the lack of intervention…the more emotional I was about the violence against women. And I wanted to do a film that would help to look into the relationships between not just a couple, but also sisters, and fathers and sons, and mothers and children."
In the Land of Blood and Honey is a love story between a Muslim woman and a Serb man during Bosnia-Herzegovina's bloody, three-year ethnic conflict.
Jolie told VOA that she hoped that the film sparks discussion about the war and Bosnia's continued struggle since the 1995 peace agreement.
"I want people to remember Bosnia, and I want them to remember what happened, and I want them to pay respect to all of the people who survived, and today, to remember that this country still has so much healing to do," she said.
A film festival in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo honoured Jolie in 2011, despite initial criticism from Bosnian sexual violence victims and a court action alleging she stole plot pieces from a book.
In the VOA interview, Jolie credited her Bosnian cast and war victims, organisations and officials she consulted with the result.
"It’s not an American film made about Bosnia. It’s a film made with one American and many Bosnians and many people from the area, and we made it together," she says.
The film was shown to an audience assembled by 11 war victims' advocacy organisations in Sarajevo on December 8, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. Hatidza Mehmedovic, who lost her husband, two sons, and other male relatives in the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 and who now heads an NGO called Srebrenica Mothers, said In the Land of Blood and Honey was an important film, the report said.
"This is a powerful movie for people who survived war – for all the victims and for any person who lived to witness the war and aggression," Mehmedovic said. "I think all people in Bosnia-Herzegovina – and those around the region and the world – should see this movie. I think that it would be good for our children and youths. We have children that were born in 1990s, and they do not remember the war."
She added: "We hope that Angelina Jolie will continue to make such movies. We cannot undo what happened here; we cannot heal the wounds of the families of those who died. But it is good to see the image of what happened presented to the world in the proper way."
But the Jolie project met with scorn in Serbia as various media outlets united to accuse her of Hollywood propaganda and her work of "political agitprop", The Budapest Times said.
Critics, including renowned film director Emir Kusturica, alleged that Jolie unfairly had depicted ethnic Serbs as sole aggressors in the war and associated ethnic-cleansing campaigns. Kusturica told Serbian daily Blic that Jolie’s new film was a work of "Hollywood propaganda."
His comments came as Belgrade tabloid Kurir ran an interview with Bata Zivojinovic – a veteran Yugoslav actor, former member of the Serbian parliament, and longtime Slobodan Milosevic ally – under the blaring headline, "Angelina Is A Jerk", RFE/RL reported.
Vecernje Novosti, a newspaper partly owned by the Serbian government, refrained from criticising Jolie personally but called her film a piece of "political agitprop" and noted that it had touched off "the largest political film scandal in the past few decades in the region."
"Superficial" was also used to describe Jolie’s handling of events that remain among Serbia’s most sensitive political issues.
Serbian actor Dragan Bjelogrlic said that Jolie’s interpretation of events was "superficial" and said that he walked out of a screening of the movie after half an hour.
Milorad Dodik, president of the Bosnian Serb entity, has said that Jolie will not be a welcome visitor to Republika Srpska, Balkan Insight reported.
Some spoke in defence. Serbian film director Stevan Filipovic, whose 2010 film Sisanje sparked controversy at home over its portrayal of the Serbian right, told RFE/RL that the attacks on Jolie and her film were consistent with a general tide of Serbian nationalism.
Writing in Variety, Justin Chang said of In the Land of Blood and Honey that though sufficiently well made to suggest a viable career behind the camera for Jolie, the film "seems to spring less from artistic conviction than from an over-earnest humanitarian impulse".
"This alternately disturbing and titillating picture reps a dramatically misguided attempt to renew public awareness of the 1992-95 Balkan conflict. Jolie's name and do-gooder cachet should lend the film a modest commercial profile, though its horrors-of-war hand-wringing will do little to challenge the apathy of the mainstream," Chang said.
In its review, The Hollywood Reporter said that it was clear from the opening moments that "this is a serious piece of work and not simply a vanity project for its debuting writer-director, Angelina Jolie."
"Jolie deserves significant credit for creating such a powerfully oppressive atmosphere and staging the ghastly events so credibly, even if it is these very strengths that will make people not want to watch what's onscreen," the review said.
In December, ,The Observer said that In the Land of Blood and Honey had been met with such unexpected critical acclaim that "a future for the actress behind the camera, as well as on screen, now looks certain".
* In the Land of Blood and Honey was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film but overlooked in Oscar nominations.