Honeyland is a truly amazing slice-of-life documentary. There's no narration, no interviews with the people involved. There's not even a whole lot of context provided at the beginning. Instead, the film swiftly drops us into one woman's world, then lets us figure out for ourselves what we need to know. For eighty-seven straight minutes, we witness how that world is dramatically upended by what initially seems to be a minuscule change.
Hatidze Muratova lives with her elderly, ailing mother in a mountain region deep in the Balkans. Their shack is tiny, lacking basic necessities like electricity and running water, and no community exists outside its walls. There isn't much to do except sit around, or perhaps keep bees, which Hatidze does to earn money. She collects the honey, then makes intermittent pilgrimages into the nearest town (several hours away) to sell it at markets.
This simple way of life is jeopardized when a man named Hussein parks his camper a short distance away from Hatidze's shack. He's got a wife and seven children in tow. Hussein is also interested in beekeeping. The problem is, he's impatient and desperate for cash. His sloppy methods upset the balance, impacting the bees Hatidze relies on. She attempts to be kind, offering some advice, all of which Hussein rejects. The movie follows this clash, as well as the ramifications it brings about.
I don't know if directors Ljubomir Stefanoc and Tamara Kotevska knew Hussein was coming or whether it was coincidental that their cameras were following Hatidze at the time. Either way, Honeyland is a captivating study in contrasts. Hatidze is the heroine, a woman who asks for little in life except to survive and keep her mother as comfortable as possible. Hussein is, for all intents and purposes, the villain. He's careless, his children are rude, and the parenting skills he and his wife have are troubling, at best. (You'll cringe at the way they borderline abuse and neglect their kids.) The two represent so many dichotomies – traditional/modern, patience/haste, integrity/greed, etc.
By remaining unobtrusive and simply recording what happens, Honeyland makes you feel like a first-hand observer. Seeing how these people live, how they harvest the honey, and how they manage (or don't manage) conflict is engrossing. Getting fully enveloped in the story becomes easy because there are no unnecessary directorial flourishes or intrusions. The film is a study in human behavior and how the actions of one person can have an enormous effect on someone else.
Vivid cinematography by Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma helps create the sensation that you've been transported to this remote region. Hatidze's way of life is radically different from what most of us know. It's captured authentically, allowing the themes of Honeyland to reverberate strongly. Even though she has comparatively little – or maybe because she does – Hatidze's got a lot to lose from Hussein's intrusion. We root for her. She's a good person in danger of having her livelihood stripped away by a guy whose interest in beekeeping is rooted in all the wrong motivations.
As Honeyland reaches its conclusion, you experience a variety of emotions all at once, some expected, some not. This is a beautiful meditation on the desire to maintain simplicity in an increasingly complicated world.
out of four
Honeyland is unrated, but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.