film fatales #72: honeyland (tamara kotevska and ljubomir stefanov, 2019)

Honeyland is a cinéma vérité portrait of a woman in Macedonia who is a beekeeper. Often with vérité documentaries, it is obvious that the people in the film are aware of the camera and crew. This never happens in Honeyland, and Hatidze Muratova, the beekeeper, is particularly "natural" in front of the camera. But it helps to remember that however it seems, there is a camera and crew that is present throughout the shooting of the film. 

While I usually prefer to know as little as possible going into a film, in the case of Honeyland, some advance knowledge would have been helpful. It was filmed over a period of three years, and while events occur over time, you couldn't build a real timeline based only the information in the film ... for all I knew, it could have been filmed over one year, or six months. It's not crucial to appreciating the film, but it's an example of how, absent context, Honeyland is often rather abstract. At one point, Muratova gets neighbors, a large family that sees her successes and decides to enter the beekeeping business as well. Muratova lives in harmony with her environs, but the family doesn't quite get how that harmony contributes to a balance that benefits all. Soon enough (or not ... again, I don't know how long this part of the movie takes in real time), the family's business fails while Muratova's suffers as well.

Honeyland is often gorgeous ... the Macedonia countryside is shown to great advantage. And the film makers do wonders with limited resources, working in an area without electricity, filming in Muratova's dark, cave-like home, at a location that is far removed from cities. Muratova herself is a remarkable character, without whom I'm not sure there would even be a movie.

But at several points, I wondered how Kotevska and Stefanov managed to maintain the hands-off needs of this kind of anthropological documentary. A young child almost drowns, and I was thinking, jeez, I hope if this turns really serious, they'll put down their cameras and save the little tyke.

Honeyland is nominated for two Oscars, Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature, which points to the breadth of its accomplishments. If part of what film can offer is a window into lives far different from our own, then Honeyland delivers.

(Here is a letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)


music friday: the doobie brothers

The newest inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced: Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G. and T-Rex.

I agree on Depeche Mode, Whitney, and Biggie, although only the latter actually mattered much to me. Kraftwerk is the biggest snub, especially if they are starting to include more synth music.

Rationally, I think the Doobie Brothers are the worst of this group of six. I mean, I was never a fan of Whitney Houston, but it's hard to argue with any woman managing to get inducted. I'm pretty sure I'd only recognize one Depeche Mode song, but that's on me, they clearly belong. But the Doobies?

And yet ... in terms of the amount of enjoyment I took from all these artists, the Doobie Brothers probably rank at the top. And I should recognize that fact, before I consign them to the pit of overrated bands.

Basically, I'm talking about the pre-Michael McDonald Doobies, i.e., fuck Yacht rock.

I lived near Santa Cruz in 1970-71, and the Doobie Brothers were in the air. They released their first album in '71, and they were something of a house band at the Chateau Liberté in the Santa Cruz mountains. I really started to notice them when the hits arrived. Any band that came up with "Long Train Runnin'", "China Grove", and "Black Water" is OK by me, and I listen to those songs to this day. (Their covers of "Jesus Is Just Alright" and "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)" are good as well.) Whether this amounts to a Hall of Fame career is something I'm not prepared to say. But in honor of those three songs, I can at least give them a Music Friday.


sacro gra (gianfranco rosi, 2013)

Another movie for "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 16 is called "Golden Lion Week":

One of the three major film festival awards (the other two being the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Goldener Bär, or Golden Bear from the Berlin IFF), the Golden Lion, or the Leone d'Oro, is the highest prize a film can receive at the Venice International Film Festival. Introduced in 1949, the Golden Lion represents the Lion of Saint Mark, which had appeared on the flag of the Republic of Venice when it was a sovereign state, and is one of the highest awards achievable in the film industry.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Golden Lion winning film.

One good thing about the Letterboxd Challenge is that I see movies that aren't ordinarily in my wheelhouse. In fact, I'd never heard of Sacro GRA before.

One bad thing about the Letterboxd Challenges is that I sometimes see movies I don't like. And now that I've not only heard of Sacro GRA but seen it, I can say I didn't like it.

Gianfranco Rosi spent two years filming on the Grande Raccordo Anulare, a highway that encircles Rome. Another 8 months were spent editing. The result was a series of short vignettes of various people who live in the vicinity. They all get multiple appearances, but honestly, I didn't learn anything from the third time as I did on the first. The EMT guy was nice, the father/daughter living in a small room were OK, the guy who fished for eels was a guy who fished for eels, the guy who checked for bug infestation in palm trees was obsessively scientific. Any one of these people might have made an interesting half-hour short. Spreading their "stories" over 90 minutes without spending more than 10 or 15 minutes on any particular person results in a film that is barely worth saying awake for. I have no idea why it won a Golden Lion.