Though consistently beautiful on a visual level and often on an emotional plane, Honeyland is one of those films that struggles to translate beyond the borders of the region in which it was made.
Buoyed by the generous heart of Hatidze Muratova, the last in the longstanding tradition of Macedonian wild beekeepers, the debut feature from Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska isn’t quite in the vein of quasi-exploitative documentaries about poor people making questionable decisions (e.g Hale County This Morning, This Evening), but often teeters into that troublesome territory.
The filmmakers’ observational depiction of Hatidze’s meager existence with her invalid mother poetically celebrates the simple pleasures of life and forms an intriguing dichotomy with the chaotic squalor of the Sams, the Turkish cattle-farming family that abruptly moves in next door.
While the transplants’ actions yield such memorable images as a calf being yanked from its mother and promptly licked clean, the family’s deep selfishness — arising from the necessities of supporting seven (!) children — makes them difficult figures with which to sympathize.
Their gradual intrusion on Hatidze’s consciously balanced ways is frustrating to view and turns Honeyland into an exercise in feeling bad for our heroine instead of being invigorated by her quest for harmony.
By the time we leave her, there’s a sense of being relieved to escape this harsh reality, which, though wholly honest, is a poor substitute for the rugged appeal that graced Hatidze’s introduction.
Grade: B-minus. Not rated, but with adult language and content. Now playing at the Fine Arts Theatre