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Bernard-Henri Lévy

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Angelina Jolie, Bosnia in Her Heart

Posted: 02/21/2012 6:53 am

When Angelina Jolie asked me to join her in presenting the avant-première of her film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, I began, of course, by asking to view it. But once I had, I did not hesitate for a second.

Because, really, what a story!

Here is a great Hollywood actress.

Here is one of the most popular and famous stars of cinema in the entire world.

Here is a great name, and no one could doubt that the day she decided to go behind the camera, she would have an unlimited choice of subjects, of financing, of scenarios, and, of course, of actors beating the path to her door for the privilege of participating in the adventure.

But one day Angelina Jolie, indeed, goes behind the camera -- and what happens?

She shoots a film d'auteur, with unknown Bosnian actors, in a language, Bosnian, that seems improbable both in America and in Europe -- and the film is set in this blind spot of 20th century history, in this moment of utter sorrow, one of indignity and shame, too, for the nations that let it happen: the Bosnian war.

The result is a film that, first of all, rings unbelievably true. I know the places she evokes. I saw, in real life, the men and women who resemble Danijel and Aila, the Romeo and Juliet of this love story set against a backdrop of concentration camps and horror, like brothers and sisters. And this affair of rape as a weapon of war, this humiliation of a people through the tortured bodies of its women, this ethnic purification via the belly that is, not the décor, but the subject of the film, I filmed it in Bosna!, my 1994 documentary. Well, the fiction she has based upon these tragedies, their reconstitution nearly twenty years later in the Hungarian studios, their presentation in script, scene, and caption, are strikingly true to life and recapture the breath, the dark violence, that were the mark of a reality that, unhappily, I can confirm.

The result is a rare and very moving case of a successful transmission. Angelina Jolie was an adolescent at the time of the events she relates. She was only aware of them through vague hearsay, no doubt well after the fact. At the time when a mere handful of her elders (Peter Schneider and Hans Christoph Buch in Germany; Salman Rushdie in England; Christopher Hitchens or Susan Sontag in the United States; the author of these lines, and a few others, in France) feared that Sarajevo marked the tolling of the bell for a Europe had just offered the 21st century its new and no less nightmarish Spanish Civil War, she was still dreaming about her roles in Glass Shadow  and Hackers. But she has taken over, picked up the torch, continued in a sense the struggle and, not content to relive what we lived through, accomplished the miracle, always overwhelming when it happens, of turning our memory into history.

And the result is, ultimately, a political act such as the cinema engenders with increasing rarity. A politically committed film? Partial? A film that does not hesitate to do battle and take the risk, when necessary, of being accused of Manicheism by the cretins? Yes, of course. For it's a film that calls a spade a spade. A film that, far from the braying unanimity one imagines a pure creation of the Hollywood industry might inspire, calls the members of the Serb militias of the era "fascists" and takes care to distinguish, in the confusion of those sombre days, victims and executioners. And a film that, as a result, to borrow Godard's expression, is not just a film, but a just film, rendering justice to the dead and honor to the survivors.

When In the Land of Blood and Honey was shown in Sarajevo, on the eve of its presentation in Paris, it was welcomed by a crowd that vacillated for long moments between tears and cheering. Normal. Consider the violated women who have remained silent for the past twenty years. The children of those rapes, who are now becoming adults, who have born their genetic burden like a disgrace. Consider this Bosnian society that beheld, there, its most painful secret. Here is, suddenly, a great actress, and a great lady as well, who has used her prestige so that, for the first time, they might be allowed to raise their downcast heads.

I witnessed a similar situation, forty years ago, in Bangladesh, when a Muslim chief of State, President Mujibur Rahman, made the courageous decision to declare birangona -- literally, national heroines -- the dozens of thousands of young women who had been raped by the ruffian soldiers of the Pakistani army and who, for that, had been outcasts not only of society but often of their own families as well. This, mutatis mutandis, is the gesture of Angelina Jolie. And it is what makes the sombre grandeur of her film.

Our paths had crossed once earlier, in connexion with the memory of Daniel Pearl, whose widow she portrayed in a film.

And then a second time, on February 25th, 2007, at Bahai, in the north Sudan, where I was waiting for the possibility of clandestine passage to Darfur, and where she had come to visit the refugee camps.

This third meeting is the best -- at the encounter of a suffering that knows no statute of limitations and its inscription in the register of a work of art.

 
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