In the rugged mountain lands of Macedonia, a lone beekeeper, Haditze, must struggle to maintain the delicate balance of her honey-making wards against outsider incursion and greed in “Honeyland.”
I did not know what direction documentary filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stevanov were going to go with this mesmerizing treatise on the environment, the delicate and precarious balance of nature and the inherent societal greed that relentlessly upsets that balance.
The story they tell begins in the wilds of Macedonia as Haditze makes her rounds of the mountainous terrain to harvest and protect the bee hives under her care – half of the harvest for her and half for the bees. This life of daily routine is put to a test when a nomadic Turkish family of cattle herders arrives in their caravan. The sudden contrast between Haditze’s quiet routine and the utter chaos of the new arrivals and their many kids is like a bomb going off in the tiny community.
Haditze makes the decision to show the husband, Hussein, her honey business and help him begin his own hives. This is when things turn ugly because of greed and I will leave it at that. Find out for yourself about what happens to Haditze, her mom and her beloved bees. It is very much worth the effort. I give it a B+.
In Macedonia's Balkan mountain region Hatidze Muratova lives with her 85 year-old ailing mother Nazife without roads, running water or electricity. She makes a living by making the trek to the capital city of Skopje where she sells jars of her highly regarded honey. But when a nomadic Turkish family with a brood of unruly children and herd of cattle move in next door, Hatidze's respectful balance with the natural world is thoroughly upended in "Honeyland."
Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov make their feature debut with a story that evolved from their original intent, a film about the role of the bee. Stefanov took pictures of Hatidze on a scouting expedition and the filmmakers decided to make her their focus, leading to one of the most fortuitous if heartbreaking natural dramas of the cinematic year. The film won 2019's Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary and two special jury awards for cinematography and impact for change.
Firstly, the film is strikingly photographed using only natural light even at night, often in cramped quarters. The camera comes in close to Hatidze as she tends her bees, whether gathering them from a mountain crevice or tending them within the outer wall of her stone hovel. She uses no gloves, only a slight veil and some smoke when necessary. She tends to her blind, paralyzed mother with tender, patient affection.
When the raucous Sam family arrives, their seven children bouncing about in a trailer full of chickens, Hatidze shares her wealth, showing patriarch Hussein and eldest son Mustafa how to tend bees, letting a young girl pick a kitten, pouring a home brewed brandy. But the inept Hussein, goaded by a merchant, favors profit over sustainability and repays kindness with thoughtless destruction. The Hatidze we leave is in very different circumstances than the one we initially meet, yet in getting to know this resourceful woman, we have higher hopes for her future than she does.
There are so many amazing, lovely, funny and sad moments to cherish in this film. Mustafa proves to be a far more empathetic and wise neighbor than his father, who he frequently curses out in amusing fashion. Hatidze's bartering in Skotje reveals the high esteem in which she's held, a fan made a gift when she mentions it is for her mother. She thoroughly shocks us with her interest in hair dye, her clothing limited to one outfit, her locks always covered by a scarf, her weathered face unadorned by any makeup (the event she spruces up for features oiled wrestlers). We have no idea what her faithful little dog Jackie subsists on, she and her mother never seen eating meat, but are heartened to see her sharing honeycomb with him, even under sad circumstances.
"Honeyland" tells a story as old as humankind, one which illustrates how the best of humanity are so frequently exploited by those looking for immediate rewards. Hatidze Muratova is one of 2019's most fascinating personalities, a woman whose misfortune demands a hopefully uplifting follow-up.
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