VOD film review: Honeyland
Ivan Radford | On 03, Nov 2019
Director: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov
Cast: Hatidze Muratova
Watch Honeyland online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
When it comes to bees on film, it’s hard not to think of Nic Cage bellowing his aversion to our pollinating friends in the US remake of The Wicker Man. Honeyland couldn’t be further from that memorable moment: the documentary is a quiet, reflective, absorbing portrait of the insects and the vanishing art of looking after them.
Our beekeeper in question is Hatidze Muratova, who lives in the Macedonian mountains alongside a horde of hives. She’s an understated but determined figure in an unpopulated area, someone whose life revolves around the careful routine of harvesting honey, selling it in the not-so-nearby town and returning to wait for more to be produced.
Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov ease us into that cyclical rhythm until her life becomes entirely immersive. Filming for three years, with no narration or talking heads, there’s nothing to get in the way of their pure, visual stunning storytelling, which often throws up stunning images with an understated, calm beauty.
Part of that routine, though, are two other forces that threaten to disrupt her existence. The first is her mother, Nazife, a half-blind octogenarian who is her primary source of company. The film captures their relationship with an intimate immediacy yet without explicit affection – their bond is a simple one of getting by and facilitating each other to do that. The other is a younger bee enthusiast, Hussein, who is keen to learn from her, and hopes to eventually use that knowledge to support his own family. Where she is judicious in her always-leave-some-for-the-need approach, though, his harvesting strategy is more combative and self-centred.
And so the stage is set for a collision of ideals and philosophies. It sounds either high-minded or trivially small, but Honeyland wraps you up in that moral, imperative discussion, one that raises questions not only of the importance of Europe’s last female beekeeper but also our own relationship to the environment around us. A tale of modern commercialism versus time-honoured respect for nature, the documentary debates its subject matter with a whispered urgency that finds real drama in a natural way; organic filmmaking that’s subtly absorbing.
Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute