Without Blood: Angelina Jolie’s New Movie (Shot in Italy)

Jolie: Looking at Violence and Trauma in Different Ways in New Movie ‘Without Blood’

Director-Oscar winning actor Jolie shoots latest drama in Italy with Oscar nominees Salma Hayek and Demián Bichir

Without Blood Angelina Jolie
Courtesy Image
When Oscar winner Angelina Jolie read Alessandro Baricco’s short novel Without Blood, the Italian fable about the brutality of war and healing in its aftermath had an immediate therapeutic effect.

“I read it right as I was going through the beginning of a very dark time in my life. I read it in the month that followed my divorce [from Brad Pitt in 2016],” recalls Jolie, who shot the adaptation at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. “It had the effect on me that it’s had on so many people,” Jolie says, noting that the blurb on the cover says that the book is about the complexity of the human condition.

“I didn’t understand that when I first read it. I just knew the book had a profound effect on me,” she says. “I think it’s one of those pieces of art, of somebody’s intuition and mind, that puts something forward that has so much truth in it about who we are as people.”

“We love dead bodies; we definitely have dead bodies,” says Emmy-winning production designer Jon Hutman, who recalls meeting Jolie in 2010 on the Venice set of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Tourist.” He has worked on four of the actor’s five films since then.

“Having a lot of shootouts means you have to have multiples of the same costume,” says costume designer Ursula Patzak, who adds that the main visual reference she got from Jolie is “The Godfather,” which “has lots of black and white costumes.” The color palette of the film’s outfits is sober because “color distracts from the narrative of the story and from the actors.”

“My first film was about the war in the Balkans,” Jolie recalls of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” saying she wrote it “trying to understand” how people who love each other can turn against each other.  “How come in the beginning of the film they love each other and in the end of the film they’re killing each other?” she says. “The film is a study in how that happens.”

But “Without Blood,” which is told in a series of flashbacks, is a more complex work about violence, war and choices. “This film raises different questions; there is no clear good and bad in this film, even though there is clearly bad, horrible, horrific and criminal behavior.”

(This interview was conducted before an FBI report from 2016 leaked last week where Jolie alleged that Pitt assaulted her on a plane ride, leading to their divorce.)

Baricco’s novel is set in an unnamed place with echoes of Mexico, and in an unspecified time, though the film spans the 1920s to the 1970s.

The story revolves around Nina (Salma Hayek), who, as young girl, witnesses the carnage inflicted by her father’s enemies on her father and brother. She escapes by hiding under the family’s farmhouse floor, and although one of the murderers, a man named Tito (Demián Bichir), spots her, he decides to keep quiet. Many years later, they will meet again.

After reading the book, Jolie met with Baricco and wrote the screenplay. But it was not until six years later, after meeting with top executives from Fremantle and Lorenzo De Maio, who launched De Maio Entertainment in 2021 with backing from Fremantle, that she was able to get traction on bringing this passion project to the screen. “They loved the material, so it just really came together,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it because they don’t make a lot of films like this these days.”

Earlier this year, Jolie inked a three-year deal with Fremantle; “Without Blood” is the first project from that pact. De Maio calls it “a great opportunity for us.”

Andrea Scrosati, group COO and continental Europe CEO of Fremantle, says that one month after signing the overall deal with Jolie, “Without Blood” was already in pre-production, fully financed by Fremantle, which has been making major push into film. The budget is being kept under wraps.

The film’s casting came together “rapidly and organically,” says De Maio. This was thanks to Jolie’s close rapport with her “Eternals” co-star Hayek, and because Bichir starred in a Baricco theater piece in Mexico and holds the writer in high esteem. “The majority of the cast are Mexicans speaking with Mexican accents,” says Jolie, who calls the film a “hybrid” in terms of nationalities and genres.

She shot Without Blood at Cinecittà, where Fremantle has long-term rental deal, and in other Italian locations, including ancient Southern Italian town of Matera, where the opening car chase in Bond pic “No Time to Die” was shot.

Also in the adjacent region of Puglia, “Angie’s favorite set,” according to Hutman, where they shot the field hospital where Nina’s father, a doctor, worked, and Procoio, estate west of Rome where the farmhouse for the opening scene was found.

Andrew Wyeth paintings serve as visual reference for the farmhouse scene, says Hutman, who says that “besides the tonality of the farmhouse, there are lots of faded whites and natural woods throughout the movie.”

A climactic scene near the end of “Without Blood,” in which Nina and Tito reconnect in art nouveau cafè, was shot at night in central Rome’s Piazza della Repubblica in order to capture the cafè, and then reworked at Cinecittà using giant LED wall.

Without Blood, which is being edited in Los Angeles, should be completed in the second half of 2023.

As for the film’s themes of war, revenge and forgiveness, “The reality of our never-ending wars has helped me to look at violence and trauma and revenge in very different ways, and there is no easy answer,” says Jolie.