Fine images in a documentary that will appeal to some more than to others.


We have here a highly regarded film but what you get from this work by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska depends on what you look for in a documentary. No one can fail to admire the colour photography but, given the lack of any commentary or more detailed context, Honeyland will appeal most to those with an ethnological bend. Central to it is a woman in her fifties, Hatidze Muratova, and she is a striking presence whose work as a beekeeper living in the mountains yields some memorable shots (her close rapport with her bees, almost personal in character, puts one in mind of the extraordinary bond between cowboy and horse captured so well in The Rider).


Apparently, Honeyland is a condensation of some four hundred hours of film taken over three years but the time scale is never clear and, as edited, the images repeatedly lack the sense of flow from one to another essential for good cinema. It is also the case that only belatedly and indirectly does it emerge that the fine landscapes that we have been admiring are located in Macedonia. Similarly, although we soon discover that Hatidze is living with her 85-year-old mother and has never married, it is only in dribs and drabs that we learn that she has Turkish roots and that her late father discouraged suitors. When new neighbours - a Turkish family with many kids - move in, we realise that the childless Hatidze is responsive to children despite never having had one of her own.


The situation depicted in Honeyland is one in which the inept neighbours arriving with their cattle soon add beekeeping to their livelihood but do so in ways that put profits first and come to threaten Hatidze’s bees. Those with more knowledge than I have of beekeeping may appreciate the details better, but the extra hardships that come to Hatidze are all too clear, as is the fact that her old mother is unlikely to live much longer. What all this amounts to is that, despite the consolations found by Hatidze in beekeeping, she has what looks like a miserable existence. The growing tensions with the neighbours supply some sense of development to the film, but the various episodes shown often seem haphazardly chosen. The honesty of the portrait and the outstanding photography mean that on its own terms Honeyland will impress those for whom this look at life is satisfying in itself. In my own case, though, I was distanced by the way in which the material was assembled, but you may regard this as a matter of taste.




Featuring  Hatidze Muratova, Nazife Muratova, Hussein Sam, Ljutvie Sam, Mustafa Sam.


Dir Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, Pro Atanas Georgiev and Ljubomir Stefanov, Ph Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, Ed Atanas Georgiev, Music Foltin.


Neon/Pharmachem-Skopje Apolo Ledia/Trice Films-Dogwoof.
90 mins. North Macedonia/Switzerland/USA. 2019. Rel: 13 September 2019. Cert. 12A.