Angelina in Wonderland
by Stephen Schwartz
Last April, when I was in Sarajevo, the Bosnian metropolis, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt happened to make a quick tour of the country, coming by private plane from Venice, where Jolie was filming The Tourist, a mystery pic with Johnny Depp. The arrival of the superstar couple was itself somewhat mysterious. La Jolie bears the title of Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But the efforts of the latter agency in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been so badly obstructed by the refusal of Bosnian Serbs to countenance the return to their homes by expelled Bosnian Muslims and Croats that even the mighty lips of La Jolie would do little to advance the U.N.'s (presumed) agenda.
Bosnians are inveterate sycophants in the presence of the famous, and especially the foreign and fabulously glamorous. The city reverberated excitedly as Brangelina were reported to have been seen here, there, and everywhere. Still, during the jaunt, the reason for their trip was left unexplained.
Then Bosnians and those few foreigners still interested in Balkan affairs have now learned what was afoot. Jolie had decided to begin her career as a film director with a feature about the Bosnian war of 1992-95. The specific subject of the proposed movie: a romance between a Serb concentration camp guard and a Bosnian Muslim woman prisoner. This nonsense went so far beyond typical "Hollywood humanitarianism" as to shock the Bosnian public, and has now made worldwide headlines.
Bosnian media report that the film script centered on a Serb rapist and his Bosnian Muslim victim. Permits for cinema work in Sarajevo were revoked after non-governmental organizations representing Bosnian rape victims (estimated at 60,000 women and girls) protested. The film synopsis now projects a romantic relationship between the Serb camp guard and his Muslim former girlfriend. But Jolie's team fled Sarajevo after filming some background footage, and is continuing the project in neighboring Hungary.
Women Victims of War, a Bosnian NGO, has told the U.N. that Jolie has forfeited any credibility she may have had as a Goodwill Ambassador. The group called Jolie "ignorant" and rejected an invitation to meet with her in Budapest, challenging her for her failure to talk to local rape victims before the film began development.
The U.N. appointment of Jolie as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2001 illustrates the moral vapidity of the UNHCR no less than of the movie star. Can one imagine a more tin-eared example of "film tourism" than this wretched conception? Perhaps she was inspired by Depp, who conducted himself in his typical goofy manner at an anti-American film festival in Serbia last January. The Serbs erected a statue to him!
The Bosnian war has provided the backdrop for some of the worst movies of recent years, including the grotesque, three-hour Ulysses' Gaze, released in 1995 when Sarajevo was still in ruins, and inexplicably included in Time magazine's 100 Best Films of All Time. That mess wasted the talent of Harvey Keitel. The 2007 production The Hunting Party portrayed postwar Bosnia in a slapdash manner that disgraced the talented Terrence Howard. Would Jolie next consider a film in which a Hamas terrorist falls in love with an Israeli girl, after shooting a rocket at the latter's house and killing her family? Unfortunately, the memory of the Bosnian Serb rape campaign will not be resolved by warm fuzzies via Netflix.
P.S.: Aside from films made by Bosnians, the best picture about the war in that country remains, for my money, Behind Enemy Lines, released in 2001 with Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson, and described here. It's a favorite on late night cable, and long may it be so.