Monday, December 30, 2019

Honeyland Is A Sweet Intimate Portrait of a Helpful Beekeeper

Given how often movies aim for endlessly gargantuan spectacle regardless of whether or not it works for their story or not, it's always refreshing to find an unabashedly simple motion picture like Honeyland. It crossed my mind more than once whether or not the basic premise of this project could sustain a feature-length story. Such thoughts quickly vanished as Honeyland constantly proved my doubtful thoughts misplaced. In fact, Honeyland is quite remarkable in how it gets such an engaging movie out of so little. Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov demonstrate that it's not the number of tools you have, but how you use them.

Honeyland is a documentary chronicling Hatidze Murotova, a beekeeper in Macedonia who spends her days taking care of bees as well as her elderly mother. Hatidze Murotova is a calming quiet figure who makes her living through honey. Her life is thrown a curveball when a brand-new family moves in next door. They too rely heavily on bees for their welfare but they're far more aggressive in their tactics for working with these animals. This is especially true of the family's father, who tends to plow onward instead of recognizing his own vulnerabilities while also ignoring Hatidze's warnings for how his family's behavior could adversely affect the livelihood of her bees.

Though a documentary, Honeyland tells its story in a hands-off manner that eschews a number of the traits we associate with documentaries. No interview segments are to be found here, there aren't any animated segments used to explain certain concepts for the viewer and on-screen figures seem oblivious to the fact that they're being filmed. In fact, Honeyland mostly resembles a traditional narrative film that just so happens to be following real people engaging in unscripted activities. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov are adhering to Shohei Imamura's approach to filmmaking that dictates the director should merely be a fly on the wall objectively observing routine human behavior.

Thus, we get to see an authentically rendered portrait of Hatidze's life. This dedication to capturing even the most mundane aspects of her day-to-day existence in a cinematic format is extremely moving. This is especially true of the scenes centered on Hatidze tending to her mother, the lack of external polish on the part of the filmmakers enhances the quiet poignancy of these most intimate portions of Honeyland. Meanwhile, the dynamic between Hatidze and her neighbors is rendered in a similarly interesting fashion, particularly bits of complexity thrown into this rapport like Hatidze developing a friendship with one of the family's sons.

While much of Honeyland is centered around small-scale character interactions, there are more grand moments that allow for some truly stunning imagery. Specifically, any of the scenes depicting Hatidze trekking up a mountain to recruit more bees. Not only is the sight of Hatidze making her way across this mountain an immediately memorable sight, but the vertigo-inducing sights from this high up are truly beautiful looking. Through these marvelously-rendered shots, we get to see the expansive nature of the natural world Hatidze is doing her part to help protect. Similar to how Honeyland creates engaging cinema through such restrained means, Hatidze as a person shows how even one person and her bees can help to make the world a better place.

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