Documentary film “Honeyland”, which was selected as North Macedonia’s entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar at the Academy Awards in last year and was also included in the December shortlist for the Best Documentary Oscar, is an extraordinary work to be admired for several good reasons. Although it does not provide any background knowledge for us from the beginning to the end, it immediately immerses us into the plain daily life of its human subject, and then it engages us more as calmly observing how this daily life happens to be disrupted by external factors.
The documentary opens with Hatidze Muratova, a middle-aged North Macedonian woman living in some remote rural area, going through her another usual workday. At first, she simply seems to be climbing up a barren rocky mountain, but then we slowly come to gather that she is going to a spot where wild beehives are hidden behind boulders. Once she gets to the spot in question, she displaces some boulders to reveal the beehives behind them, and then we observe how she carefully extracts honey and then takes a bunch of wild bees into her traditional casket after calming them with smoke. After coming back to her shabby residence, she releases these bees in the space inside a stone wall, and these bees soon begin to work again for making their new beehives.
After harvesting enough honey to sell, Hatidze goes to Skopje, the capital city of North Macedonia. She walks around here and there in a big marketplace for dealing with several merchants, and, after selling honey, she buys some food and other things for her and her aging mother, who has been stuck in their residence due to her deteriorating health condition. The documentary often closely watches them bickering with each other, and we can clearly sense many years of solitary life between them. Although Hatidze genuinely cares about her mother, her mother often becomes abrasive and cranky as feeling ill everyday, and that certainly tests Hatidze’s longtime patience at times.
And then there suddenly comes an unexpected change into their quiet solitary life. A man named Hussein Sam arrives along with not only his wife and a bunch of children but also a pack of cows and chickens, and this boisterous group surely disrupts the calm environment of Hatidze and her mother right from the first day. While not so pleased about this change, Hatidze is willing to accept Hussein and his family as new neighbors, and she later befriends some of his children, as reflected by a little kitten given to one of them by her.
However, the circumstance takes a disagreeable turn as Hussein, who is ready to earn more money to support him and his family by any means necessary, comes to consider trying beekeeping. As a good neighbor, Hatidze gives Hussein some advices, and she also tells him that he should not be greedy for not only his bees but also well hers, but, not so surprisingly, he does not listen to her wise advices much. After making a deal with a local supplier, he and his children try to get honey as much as possible within a short time, and that eventually affects not only their beekeeping business but also Hatidze’s.
Hatidze naturally becomes more frustrated and exasperated day by day as Hussein and his family continue to damage what she has diligently established for many years as following the order of nature. She protests to Hussein at one point, but Hussein does not listen to her at all as before, and he later commits a bigger offense to her beekeeping business later, which surely hurts her feeling a lot.
While firmly sticking to its objective attitude, the documentary lets us emphasize with Hatidze as well as her new neighbors. We feel sad as watching Hatidze’s increasingly despairing situation, and we also come to understand how things are also desperate for Hussein and his family. When their conflict is subsequently resolved in an unexpected way, nobody wins with bitter feelings on both sides, and then there comes a sad incident which considerably devastates Hatidze.
When the documentary was shown at the Sundance Film Festival early in last year, it won three awarding including the Grand Jury Prize for directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov and the Cinematography award for cinematographers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, who surely deserve the award for their superlative job in the documentary. Frequently staying close to Hatidze and other several human figures in the documentary, the camera constantly conveys to us a vivid, intimate sense of life around them, and there are also a number of strikingly gorgeous shots depending a lot on natural lights. I was particularly mesmerized by a lovely visual moment which beautifully shows Hatidze working under broad yellow daylight, and I was also quite impressed by several indoor nocturnal scenes gleaming with considerable poetic mood as only brightened by candlelights.
As your average arthouse documentary film, “Honeyland” definitely requires some patience from you, but it is still a rewarding experience on the whole, and it may provoke you to have some reflections on our relationship with nature, considering the ongoing global climate change around the world which is mainly caused by our capitalistic greed and callous disregard of the order of nature. In short, this meditative and thought-provoking documentary is surely one of more impressive ones of last year, and I am glad that I ended the last day of 2019 along with this sublime piece of work.