was the bloodiest combat since World War II, but it did not raise our
national awareness like, say, The Gulf War.
Because there was no oil involved? Because
we don’t really care if people in other countries slaughter each other,
as long as it doesn’t affect our economy?
Because a civil war in another country is none of our business?
Because President Clinton was preoccupied at the time, and didn’t
have the international backing to go in and try to stop the genocide?
, of course, was part of the
that broke up after the death of Tito, who, though by all accounts a cruel
and despotic dictator, nevertheless managed to hold together what was
obviously a delicate ethnic triumvirate: Serbs,
Croatians, and Muslims. But the political vacuum following the demise of
Communist rule ignited centuries-old, still-smoldering cultural divisions,
and suddenly it’s open warfare. Fingers
can be pointed all day about who started it, and at whose provocation, but
once the violence began there was no stopping it---not until the slaughter
was horrific, even by 20th century standards.
Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a happy
young woman going on a date. Her
sister helps her get dolled up, and she’s having a great time, at
dinner, and later, at a club, dancing. Suddenly
the air is pierced with an unexpected explosion, and the coarse, inelegant
violence has literally come home to roost.
It turns out that her date, Danijel (Goran Kostic) is a captain in
the Serbian reserve army, which of course has now been activated.
And Ajla is Muslim. She
says, later, that she was brought up in such a way that those distinctions
no longer mattered. But she is
about to receive a very rough re-education.
Just like the Nazis did when
rounding up the Jews in occupied territories during World War II, first,
they separate the men from the women. Then
the women from their children. Then
the younger women are herded off separately, so they can be….used in
whatever fashion the rough soldiers may choose.
Sometimes, the capricious raping is public, just to emphasize their
total control over everyone. The
women, completely intimidated and isolated and brutalized, now have only
two choices: submit or die.
And doing the first makes them feel like choosing the second.
Ajla is one of the lucky ones.
Her “capitan,” Danijel, continues to take a special interest in
her, and even protects her with her own room, and sets her up with her
precious paints and easel, where she is free to pursue her considerable
artistic talent. But she sees the
coquettish “painted ladies” who have chosen to be “party girls”
for the soldiers, giggling and flirting and throwing their sex around
freely, and she neither wishes to be “traitorous” like them nor does
she want to feel guilty about her genuine feelings for this
otherwise-attractive man caught in a maelstrom of his own.
Meanwhile, as the conflict escalates, Danijel is watching his men
get picked off by the “enemy,” and feels quite conflicted when he
returns to his “kept woman,” whose “special” circumstances are
starting to cause dissension in the ranks as well as confusion within him.
Worse, his father, a commanding general, has caught wind of the unusual
arrangement and feels he needs to take steps to both protect his son and
denigrate his fraternizing-with-the-enemy relationship, which for him are
the same thing.
There’s no happily ever after
here. Four years after the outbreak
of hostilities, the war drags on, and more and more innocents are plowed
under, until there is no innocence left. Writer
and Director Angelina Jolie shows the conflict from the standpoint of the
women, but her focus is unblinking when it comes to the rapacious personal
violence of “ethnic cleansing” unchecked.
Many who want their movies to provide “light entertainment”
will avoid this one. But those who
avail themselves will experience an emotional wallop not soon forgotten.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim
Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,