This fascinating, crackerjack documentary by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska doesn’t seem like one while being more than a modern, cautionary parable set in a remote mountainous hamlet in North Macedonia.
In moving, microcosmic fashion Honeyland (in Turkish with English subtitles) observes the seemingly simple milieu of weathered, middle-aged wild beekeeper Hatidze Muratova who croons a bit; also she is pretty fond of the insects who are known for their honey output which keeps her and an elderly, bedridden (blind, paralyzed) mother Nazife going.
There’s a clarity to the filmmaking in what started out as more of an ecological before the vantage point shifts more potently with hues, landscapes and visages being key to its potency. Turkish family Sam with patriarch Hussein brings dissonance to a quiet life of scouring cliff sides and selling honey at a Skopje agora.
The new neighbors have a very sizable cattle herd and Hatidze compassionately advises a hasty Hussein about not neglecting the ‘bees’ share of the honey which at harvest time can get them through a grueling winter. Hatidze has a way with the merchants despite illiteracy and living off the grid without electricity (though a radio broadcast could reach from afar if her antenna and the weather are in sync).
In a dramatic sense, Honeyland has a spare, subtle quality that gives way to a more tricky dynamic as chaos from interlopers elicits peril. It’s a nice contrast to the intimate, sepia-tone candlelit times of a daughter and mother offer a bit of subtext. Part of the nuance reflects frustrations and moods in familial relations — whether long-gestating or culpability that offers some heartrending moments.
A cinematic blossom of beauty is more than a beekeeping tutorial and brings surprising emotional sustenance to those absorbing what took three years to make. More of an allusive aura resonates alongside an analogous avarice; being with Hatizde (in good and bad times) has that surreal quality that is evidenced by her devotion to the natural order of life, including her buzzing friends who aren’t inclined to sting her.