film fatales #72: honeyland (tamara kotevska and ljubomir stefanov, 2019)
Sunday, January 19, 2020
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.)