Directors: Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov
Features: Hatidze Muratova, Nazife Muratova, Hussein Sam, Ljutvie Sam
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 2019
Country: Republic of Macedonia

Shot over three years by a small documentary crew, Honeyland is an unexpectedly moving depiction of the fragile balance between humanity and nature. We follow the story of Hatidze, a woman in her mid-fifties who has lived and worked her entire life as a beekeeper in a tiny village nestled deep in the craggy mountains of the Republic of Macedonia. We first meet her as she climbs perilously along a mountainous precipice to check one of her handmade hives, this one hidden away inside a crevice. Her lack of protective clothing—no netting, no heavy gloves—immediately cue us to her connection to the bees, one that is based on mutual respect grounded in ages of tradition. She knows that she must treat the bees well, or else she risks throwing off the natural balance and destroying the hive.

That balance and respect is key to Hatidze’s meager livelihood, but her commitment to it transcends the economic and reflects a deeper connection with the world around her. Her ochre shirt and green headscarf look as if they were art-designed to match the rugged landscape around her, but we intuit that such artificialities have no place here. The tiny corner of the world that Hatidze and her ailing, eighty-something mother Nazife inhabit is so remote, so removed from what most of us know that it feels almost, but not quite, unreal. There is an earthiness, a fundamental essence to it that endows her simple life and livelihood with a sense of timelessness. She does not exist entirely outside the world, of course, and we watch her make the four-hour trek to the nearest city, where she sells jars of honey in local markets.

The outside world eventually comes to her in the form of Hussein, the head of an itinerate family who moves onto neighboring land with his seven squabbling children and herd of cattle. Hatidze is welcoming in every way imaginable, and after she shares advice about beekeeping, Hussein decides to take up the occupation, as well, albeit without the same sense of care and respect. The balance, therefore, is upended, and soon Hatzide is having to deal with myriad problems that threaten her livelihood. But, it’s more than that. As Honeyland makes clear in a gentle, subtle way, the relationship between humanity and the world in which we live must be handled with care. Hatzide represents that care, while Hussein represents a more careless, selfish approach that sacrifices long-term stability for short-term gain. It doesn’t take much to extrapolate out from this highly specific subject to a much grander set of realities, but one of the real virtues of Honeyland is that it doesn’t push such an agenda, but rather lets us discover it for ourselves.

Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (3.5)

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