Honeyland (2019)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov
Run Time
1 hour and 30 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.

Psalm 55:11
Hatidze is said to be the last woman beekeeper in Europe to harvest honey in an old fashioned way. (c) Trice Films

Documentarians Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov may have aptly named their film, but for the middle-aged female beekeeper it is not a land of milk and honey. She and her 84-year-old bedridden mother Nazife are the last residents of their decayed small village located in the semi-arid mountains of northern Macedonia. Hatidze’s weathered face and uneven, decaying teeth mirror the condition of the abandoned stone houses, their roofs fallen in and walls crumbling. We will learn that she supports herself and her half-blind mother by tending to the bees in the hills and the few hives she keeps near her house and selling the honey in Skopje, which is about 12 miles away—a long walk and then a bus ride. In the one scene that we see on a bus, she stands in sharp contrast to a passenger sitting across the aisle—she with her peasant scarf and gnarled features, the young man, barely in focus, with a spiked  ridge of hair rising up like small pillars in the middle of his head. After bargaining with a shop owner for the best price for her honey, she buys a hair dye for herself and an ornate fan for her mother—though the kind salesperson makes a gift of the latter.

The film opens with a high overhead shot  of the woman’s tiny figure, her head covered by a blue and white head scarf, walking on a path, and then we join her as she walks along a narrow ledge and climbs up the mountain to where the bees live. She sings quietly as, without gloves or a mask, she takes some of the honeycombs and places them in jars. Showing no fear, she is not stung by any of the buzzing creatures, some of whom cluster on her hand. She walks back down the mountain to her small one-room stone hut lit only by candle or oil lamp. Other than her mother, the only companions of the never married woman are her cat and dog.

In one of many contentious and yet tender scenes with her mother, she feeds the old woman, who seems to prefer sleeping to eating. She tries to get her to stretch out her legs so they won’t cramp, but the woman refuses. She does a little better in the various scenes in getting her to eat a second and third bite of porridge or honeycomb. Despite their frustration with each other, it is evident that the two love each other, the mother realizing that in her decrepit condition she is a hindrance to her daughter, saying, “I’m not dying, I’m just making your life misery,”

Their lonely life is interrupted when in the distance the daughter sees an old house trailer very slowly being towed along the road, passing their house and stopping a short distance away. A man, wife and seven unruly children, the latter ranging from a toddler to teens, clamber out and, amidst orders spit out like darts from the mouth of the father, quickly set up and unpack the trailer. Accompanying the vehicle are a hundred or more noisy cattle.

There is no intercourse at first between the newcomers and Hatidze, she patiently shooing away a stray steer that intrudes into her sparse yard. Over the next few days it is with the younger children that she first bonds, and then it is that she visits with the whole family. Indeed, it isn’t until this point that we learn the names of the woman and her mother, Hatidze and Muratova, as well as that of the man and wife, Hussein and Ljutvie Sam. Hussein verbally abuses the children, almost always angry with his older boys because they shirk their duties or perform them poorly. It is obvious that, due to their large number, they are always close to hunger. Becoming interested in his neighbor’s beekeeping, Hussein pumps her for information and decides to try it himself for the extra income. She freely shares her knowledge, with the proviso that he must always take just half of the honey so that the bees will continue to thrive.

All goes well, until when it is time for him to harvest, he does not heed her advice. His buyer has been pressuring him to provide more than what had been initially promised. His bees, deprived of their own honey, encroach on Hatidze’s, killing some of the bees in the process. She asks that he move his hives, but he refuses. Later, when his buyer presses him for still more honey, Hussein even steals from her, leaving her feeling helpless and alone. Frustrated, Hatidze declares, ““May God burn their livers.”

This story in which one person seeks to live in harmony with nature and neighbor is simply told by the acts and words of the people. There is no narration, no interviews, and very little background music. I have read that the filmmakers filmed the participants over a period of three years, the story of conflict emerging rather than preplanned. From 400 hours of film, editor Atanas Georgiev and the directors spent another year assembling this one-and-a-half-hour story. The crew must have related well to their subjects to get such intimate and self-revealing shots. Neither the adults nor the children pay attention to the camera as they interact. Truly a remarkable feat.

The film can be seen and discussed as a parable of opposing ways of relating to nature—live in harmony with it or exploit it. Although poverty-stricken himself, Hussein Sam nonetheless represents modern industrialists in pursuit of profits and heedless of consequences to the natural environment. Hatidze, on the other hand, respects nature, living off it but always taking care that there is enough honey left for the bees. She is in the business for the long term; Hussein for the short-term gain.

The way in which the conflict ends, and the fate of the Sam family sounds like a story out of the Hebrew Scriptures. She is easy to root for, and even the Sam family, though acting out the role of villains, come across as humans, each member of the hardscrabble family fated to exist at the bottom of society.

This is the kind of unheralded film gem that led me to found Visual Parables 29 years ago!

 This review will be in the October issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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