Unrated, mainly because this is practically a cinema verite foreign documentary. I'm so torn to write about what is considered controversial or questionable material. In my heart of hearts, this movie is completely tame. But it also has child abuse, kids being stung by bees, dead animals, dying animals, and language. That kid swears! He's so angry. It's odd to think that the movie would be considered inappropriate, but I can kind of get that many people wouldn't feel comfortable watching this. Regardless, unrated.
DIRECTORS: Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov
Our group of friends...we're rascals. Just old fashioned rascals. I don't know why I'm ashamed of a common game that we play in our circle, but it's always led by one member of the group. My friend loves to pretend that a movie that he considers unwatchable is a must-watch film. It's not just movies. He does this with TV too. He spent years trying to convince all of us that Cougar Town was one of the funniest shows on television. When I say that he pretends, that does him a disservice. He lives that truth. There's a better chance than normal that he's reading this right now and that he'll actively be mad at me for revealing his game to the world. For the past few weeks, he's been living the lie that Honeyland is one of the best movies ever made. Is it weird that I feel like a bad person for not digging a documentary?
I'm not as intense on the dislike of the film as my friend. But I also saw the signs coming. He was really intense about Honeyland and I know that if there is one thing that my friend dislikes in a movie, it's boringness. I'm going to stumble into my hypocrisy camp once more. The intellectual snob part of me, which is safely 75-90% of me, understands that documentaries should document the truth, regardless. This is the attitude that the Maysles had with their brand of cinema verite documentary. It didn't matter if there was a story there or not. They documented the film as they were and they released that film in a loose cohesive narrative. Listen, I've seen Grey Gardens a few times. I've watched Salesman and The Beales of Grey Gardens. I get it. I completely intellectually appreciate those films. But the 10% of me that oddly appreciates The Fast and the Furious films, despite every inclination that screams that those movies are dumb gets real bored at those movies.
At the end of the day, I'm making the argument between high art and low art. I'm a big fan of where they cross. If something can be entertaining while stimulating my brain, I will tout that as something genius. Honeyland definitely belongs in the high art / intellectual camp. Kotevska and Stefanov film Hatidze for what looks to be a year. Apparently, and I only understood this from the IMDb summary, she is the last female beehunter in Europe. I didn't know that she was the last. I just got the vibe that she depended on the bees for her very isolated livelihood. There is conflict, both internal and external. The neighbors are nomadic beekeepers. They seem friendly at times, but their presence near Hatidze is parasitical. They plunder the land they are on and move on. Okay, there's a throughline to this movie.
But ultimately, the documentary never really spikes. Something major doesn't happen in the film. (Okay, that's a gross understatement that I hope to defend throughout what I write.) Rather, the film is about the small things that compound in this woman's life. Her neighbors suck. They're not overtly evil for a lot of the movie. But the movie shows how the tensions between the patriarch of the household and the rest of the family is completely toxic to everyone involved in the movie, related or no. He keeps making these horrible business deals and he kind of is terrible at being a farmer. If anything, the big message to the movie is to not be a farmer unless you are guaranteed to be awesome at it. His incompetence is really the bad guy of the movie.
But those small things end up leading to tragedy throughout. I don't know if this is shocking to anyone, but the oldest woman in the world who might have every disease known to mankind dies before the end of the film. That seems like I'm being really insensitive, mainly because I am and I'm now a little ashamed of it. But upon seeing Hatidze's mother, remembering that Hatidze is no spring chicken herself, it's a miracle that she's even alive at the beginning of the film. She lives on a diet of honeycomb and bananas every once in a while. She can't even hear the radio's one song because she is so near death. If she didn't live in the middle of nowhere, the woman would clearly be in hospice from moment one of the movie. Her death, while heartbreaking for Hatidze, is glaringly obvious. From an outside perspective, we all think that the tragedy is coming and we steel ourselves from it. Did it hurt a little? Yes, but I really mourned for Hatidze.
The only real emotional response that I kept getting out of the movie is how incompetent the next door neighbor was. He is this small man in the world. This buyer really seems to bully him throughout the film to take deals that wouldn't behoove his family. It's one of those situations where they have so little and the future is so murky that the family has to take what is offered to them, regardless of how it might play out. But this man is bullied by others, which causes him to bully those that he can. He is cruel to his wife and he's cruel to his kids. There are moments where his frustration makes sense. His wife seems to be all over the place personality-wise, so his frustration evokes sympathy. But it's really that they all live in a toxic environment, so they all behave in toxic, self-sabotaging manners.
But really, the movie is boring. Like, it's really dull. I've seen more boring things and I've even liked more boring things. I know that I should care about the films commentary on class and the third world, but I'm just so bored for a lot of the movie. The movie sits in this spot and allows, like honey creeping downhill, this slow slog to take over the film. Starting with Hatidze scaling a rock cliff, this phenomenal juxtaposition, the movie never really gets all that much more exciting from there. We see a lot of an old woman feeding another old woman. There are arguments with the neighbors. Hatidze gets frustrated with them, but never really puts her foot down to stop the behavior from happening. When the film ends and her livelihood is destroyed, it's heartbreaking but understandable. Hatidze never really fights for what she believes in. Instead, she watches as these atrocities are done to her. Yes, a lot of it is done clandestine-like, but that's kind of just a depressing movie.
And maybe, that's what the movie is. Kind of depressing. There are moments of normality. Buying hair dye at the market makes her seem more human and more sympathetic. Playing with dogs and going to fairs are solid moments in the story. But most of the movie is just her watching the neighbors ruining everything around them with their incompetence and selfishness. I don't mind bummer movies. In fact, I tend to lean pretty hard into bummer movies. But there's a bummer movie because the protagonist gave it all they got and still lost against fate. But then there are movies like Honeyland where nothing really happens and then the movie just kind of ends sadly.
It's odd that I don't really regret watching Honeyland. Like I said, there's something intellectual there to really appreciate. Cinematically, it is a very impressive film. It looks like a series of National Geographic photographs brought to life. It reminds me that the world isn't just what I see and what I interact with. People live all kinds of lives. The Western privilege in me questions throughout the film why she doesn't just pack up and leave, but I also know that isn't a choice for all people. I feel smarter for having seen this movie, but I can't claim that I had any part of me that actually enjoyed the movie for itself. Instead, it's more didactic than anything else. I learned about this one woman and now I know that she exists. I suppose that makes me a better person. But whatever karma I collected from watching the movie, I probably lost by writing about it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.