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Jasmina Tesanovic Headshot

Balkan Blood and Hollywood Honey

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My name is "Jasmina," and not by accident.

My father was a Serb from Bosnia-Hercegovina, who gave me this Muslim first name because he was a partisan. I was born in Belgrade, the capital of former Yugoslavia. My mother's father could never remember my exotic name: at that time, in his region, only flowering trees were called "jasmine."

I 've never seen an Angelina Jolie movie. Maybe once, in an airplane, half asleep. I went to see her movie about wars in Yugoslavia, In the Land of Blood and Honey, because after many months of ignoring it, I had to face all the dust that the film raised among my friends and foes in my former country. I already saw the heartbreaking movie on that topic Grbavica by young Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic which won the prize in Berlin in 2006. And I followed the trial of serbian paramilitary group the Scorpions . I interviewed vicitims of rape ( Suitcase, University of California Press). Enough is enough

I suffered like a beast, like a little girl: I had tears in my eyes, pain in my stomach and I was alone in the big Austin theater. The other three spectators left, bored and bewildered: abandoning a movie entirely in an obscure foreign language, with English subtitles, without special effects and with a badly-recorded soundtrack.

Actually the movie seems a steampunk recreation of the war co-productions typically made in former Yugoslavia. Movies with Richard Burton playing Tito, or some more low-key productions with local, naive acting and simple direction.

It is an honest , moving and completely true film: before this one, whenever a foreigner tried to say something about "my wars," it made me go wild with anger, no matter their attitude: politically correct, humanely wrong, or brainy or aggressive.

Once I interviewed a raped woman immediately after she was raped by the postman of her own village, a friend of her son, the age of her son. She just said, "He touched me but I forgave him, this is war, he didn't know what he was doing, my son is somewhere there in the mountains, God knows what he is doing there too."

That' s how women often talk and forgive in Bosnia, Christians or Muslim. But the coming out of these courageous women, for the first time in history, managed to criminalize rape in war as a crime against humankind.

The much-discussed love story between the rapist and the victim resemble the cult film by Liliana Cavani, The Night Porter, with Dirk Bogart playing the Nazi commander in love with his Jewish prisoner, Charlotte Rampling. The passionate affair proceeds even in peace against all odds. The Night Porter was also much discussed by all sides when it was released many years ago. While, during my wars, numerous everyday mixed marriages all of a sudden became guard and prisoner stories.

The comments of public regional celebrities in former Yugoslavia are raving:

Vedrana Rudan, a bestselling Croatian novelist, says in her blog:

"This Angelina Jolie film about rape is sure shocking, truly shocking. Of course, who can make a better movie about rape than the rapist?"

She means Americans, Hollywood, NATO...

A war survivor claims Jolie is a brave intelligent woman who dared face such a big terrible topic, and as somebody who survived the camps he testifies: every thing in her movie is true.

Rade Serbedzija may be the most talented actor living actor from former Yugoslavia. He now works in Hollywood. Rade, who is a Serb, played the notorious Serbian general and war criminal, Ratko Mladic, arrested this summer after years of hiding.

He gives a fantastic portray of a war criminal; the best cameo in the whole movie, a Macbethian banality of an evil new age punk criminal, beyond morality, locked in empty drunken rhetoric of genocides and ethnic cleansing.

In the Serbian part of Bosnia where genocide was committed against the Muslim population, the film is not welcome. It probably will never be screened there, and the local politicians do not spare the Hollywood star from the same rhetorical abuse which their predecessors used against the Muslims.

In Serbia proper, the right-wing tabloid press accused Jolie of being partial and of saying radical anti-Serb statements. The actress denies this, but has decided not to go to Belgrade to promote her film. One can understand her reasons. She already presented her film in Sarajevo and Zagreb and received ovations.

I don't think it is Angelina Jolie's moral duty to do some movie about the Balkan Wars. It wasn't the duty of Susan Sontag or Levi to defend Sarajevo in the '90s under Serbian siege, either. But those who did have a moral duty, UN and NATO, did nothing much about it, while the Serbs in Serbia lived in denial. Somebody has to clean the rubble. I am really sorry that it wasn't a movie from Belgrade but from Hollywood. Once again, Serbia missed a historical chance to reclaim it's decency. And really, who could have done a better movie about rapes than the rapists!

My feminist friends from the U.S. want to use Jolie's movie to support the campaign against abuse of women in war rape. But my feminist friends from the actual war zones are not eager to see their tragic lives used as raw material for Hollywood product.

Too recent, too fresh, too painful, the critics may say; but only by naming the guilty will the innocent be free. As Jolie said to the press, she has lived surrounded by the press for many years and now finally she has a story to tell them. Well, some people have many dark stories to tell, while hardly anybody wants to listen. They are not heroic and they don't have a happy end.