Is Angelina Jolie Auteur Material?
America will always need its golden idols, an impossibly attractive few that stand to remind us how normal and insignificant our lives are. Maybe it’s because we lack a royal family. That’s a popular theory being bandied about nowadays. After all, what better way to excuse the Kardashian wedding than abandonment issues? In truth, America’s real royal family might be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We love the superstar tag team enough to have given them a meta-name, Brangelina, and some fans, I’m sure, would take a bullet or even an RPG for Jolie. Plus Brangelina is really, really good at doing their job. Which is making us wish we were someone else, of course. Now we have one more reason to hate our existence: Angelina Jolie is not only making her directorial debut, but her writing debut as well. What an incredible and enviable woman!
But I have my doubts as to whether Jolie has that much creative muscle to flex. The movie, In the Land of Blood and Honey, details a love affair during the Bosnian Civil War in the early 90’s between a Serbian man and a Bosnian woman. This is serious stuff, and critics/Angelinites everywhere are applauding the effort, pointing out that Jolie could have easily plopped her director’s chair down on the set of a romantic comedy or some other light affair. Well, Jolie certainly did break the mold. Maybe if Jodie Foster held back on the slapstick in Little Man Tate or if Play Misty for Me didn’t have so many fart jokes, they would have been better films.
Perhaps Angelina Jolie should have chosen material better aligned with her acting career. Granted, she did receive an Oscar for her supporting role in 1999’s Girl, Interrupted and another nomination for Changeling. Still it’s pretty difficult to ignore her more, ahem, compelling roles like Laura Croft: Tomb Raider or Beowulf. Honestly, if you look at Jolie’s rap sheet for the past decade or so, there are a lot of wishy-washy titles. It makes me question Jolie’s taste, which is why I’d be more comfortable seeing her behind the helm of a sci-fi or fanboy flick. I’m not saying she is talentless, I’m just pointing out that her “type” of talent may not be the type needed to make In the Land of Blood and Honey shine. And to be both writer and director… sorry, but I never pegged Angelina Jolie as the auteur. I just don’t think she has that much attention to detail or the chops to pull it off.
Case in point: before the movie even had its ridiculous title, officials in Sarajevo revoked Jolie’s filming permit. There were rumors circulating that the movie was about the budding relationship between a rapist and his victim. During the Bosnian Civil War, the Serbs set up mass rape camps in which an astonishing number of Bosnian women were sexually assaulted as a form of genocide. And seeing how this occurred barely twenty years ago, it’s no wonder that Bosnian women were incensed by the movie, even if the suspected plot was a rumor.
Moreover, when her permit was pulled, Jolie’s Bosnian producer, Edin Sarkic, said that what was expected to be ten days of shooting was reduced to three or four days and that Jolie would only briefly be visiting the set. Briefly? How is a film to be made if no one is there to direct it? There’s more. In response to the Association of Women Victims of War (the most vocal Bosnian group on the subject), Jolie said it would be unfortunate if the film didn’t get made because of “unfair pressure based on wrong information.” Though I’m not sure what’s “unfair” about the situation, it’s clear that Jolie didn’t fully assess the repercussions her movie could have.
During the debacle, Bakira Hasecic, leader of the women’s association, expressed a desire to meet and discuss with Jolie, only to find her hard to reach. And even though Jolie expressed a reciprocal desire, by the time her permit was re-instated, the meeting had yet to take place. Jolie requests that we withhold our judgment till after viewing her movie, but these kinds of actions don’t paint a picture of someone dedicated to telling a story. Rather, it’s the behavior of someone with the means and pull to make the movie they want to make.
Eventually, the movie’s script was submitted to Sarajevo culture minister Gavrilo Grahovac, who found nothing wrong therein and granted the crew permission to continue filming. But judging from Vanity Fair editor Rich Cohen’s interview on The Today Show, the movie’s plot, about the love between torturer and tortured, doesn’t seem too far removed from the rumors. And even though she had the permission, Jolie still chose to film scenes originally planned to be shot in Bosnia in Hungary instead. To me, this feels like a filmmaker who lacks the delicate touch it takes to handle the complicated business of directing, or just doesn’t care enough to take the appropriate measures or completely disregards the real-life subjects and material they purpose to explore.
I’m not clairvoyant. I can’t say this movie will be bad (due out late December, by the way). In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out decent. The subject matter is relevant and needs to be addressed. Jolie says she couldn't put confidence in anyone else to direct the movie she wrote.“It was something I didn’t trust out of my hands,” she said. Fair enough. But how can we trust Jolie to make this movie the way it needs to be made? Maybe it is a good idea to test the waters first, after all. How about a good old-fashioned summer blockbuster or a slice of life picture? These are the types of films that seem more up Jolie’s alley. Perhaps with In the Land of Blood and Honey, she is simply biting off more than she can chew.