The Stunning Poignance of ‘Honeyland’ (FILM REVIEW)

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The deeper we get into this new era of humanity the more things change. We’ve long since lost touch with the natural rhythms of the world, moving, instead, to the rhythms of technology that mold nature into something like we want it to be. The old ways have died. For the most part.

There are, of course, parts of the world where the old ways still thrive. Well, no thrive, exactly, but still exist. They are a sort of anthropological island amidst the chaotic oceans of the modern era. On these islands, the technological comforts we take for granted have no use. Society, as we know it, is non-existent. The inhabitants of these tiny pockets of existence live life necessarily different from the way we do.

Honeyland, the debut documentary from directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, explores one of these islands that exists in far west Europe, where a lone woman, Hatidze, subsists by harvesting honey in the ways of her ancestors. The film is a shockingly beautiful, tragically poignant slice of verité filmmaking that reflects not just its subject but the world at large as well.

As her only source of income, honey is important to Hatidze and she has, as such, lived her life in balance with the natural rhythms. Though hers is a life of isolation, she respects the need for careful harvesting and does her best not to disrupt the hives or the bees. Soon, however, a new neighbor, Hussein, moves into her land. A cattle rancher with a family to feed, he sees honey as an opportunity to make some extra money. While Hatidze offers him her knowledge, his methods throw the local hives into disorder, causing some to collapse and threatening life for both Hatidze and Hussein.

Honeyland is several films at once. Part anthropological case study, part nature doc, and part poetic musing on the importance of natural balance, it is a stunning film that offers its audience much to consider. Kotevska and Stefanov have created a documentary with lyrical qualities. Filmed over several years, it unfolds like a haiku, revealing an intensely philosophical core beneath its simple layers.

The fragility of Hatidze’s world is put on stunning display and comes to represent the fragility of the world at large. No protagonist has been as intensely relatable as she in some time as she fights for survival and fights to be heard against the growing march of progress. There’s a sense of futility to her struggle. She is the last of her kind, literally, as the world moves steadily onward. But we cannot help but admire her conviction as she stands up for herself and her way of life.

Honeyland landed with wild acclaim earlier this year at Sundance, taking home the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, a Special Jury Award for cinematography, and a Special Jury Award for originality.  It’s more than deserving of its praise and will almost certainly play a role in this years’ awards campaigning. Documentary lovers will be stung by this beautiful and heartfelt tale that’s as moving as it is provocative.

Honeyland is now playing in select theaters.

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