Communication and tradition can be tricky as generations try to pass on what they’ve learned. Every generation feuds with the one before it. Often, skip-level generations find ways to bond over their small commonalities, even if only on a couple subjects. Whether the elderly and the young come together for some metaphysical reason or not, it seems how we communicate with those outside our age group has become more divisive than ever. At the heart of Honeyland, these generational divides and communicative walls create anger and frustration. Yet hope springs anew with Honeyland showcasing a beautiful world in harmony with nature.
Honeyland follows an elderly beekeeper in North Macedonia. Hatidze Muratova climbs the mountains of the region and finds beehives to start her own colonies. For decades, Hatidze has lived alone in the mountains with her bees and her mother Nazife. Away from society, Hatidze has created a routine and life that requires little from the outside world. When a nomadic family moves next door to her house, she finds solace in the company and thirst for knowledge. Yet when the generational divide and greed begin to erode the relationship, Hatidze’s very way of life becomes endangered.
Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov capture the loneliness and danger of Hatidze’s life. Her life feels tragic, and the way they shoot her creates a sense of melancholy. You cannot help but wonder what her life could have been if she had not been drawn into her mother’s world. Her regret can be read on every inch of her face. Despite this, the artistry and genius of her handling of bees can only find parallels in art. Her stunning dance with the bees creates a sense of majesty and wonder.
Hatidze’s life feels purposeful in its balance. She struggles to live at the edge of the world, just as her creatures struggle to survive. Watching these bright yellow creatures thrive on-screen creates a surprising amount of hope. The shadow of doom heralded by media and scientific studies and their direct relation to bees feels impossible to ignore. It makes the mountains of Macedonia feel like a sanctuary, further adding to the wonder and glory captured on camera.
The underlying demonization of capitalism cannot be ignored. Greed creates an unbalance in the natural world. As with any natural resource, the bees of the region are scarce and valuable. The conflict this creates elicit emotional turmoil that has long been hiding within Hatidze. Just as her professional and life’s work comes into question, the consequences of her choices come into focus. How she handles this journey becomes emotionally thrilling, cathartic, and philosophical. It makes Honeyland and unusual breed of documentary.
To complement the complex storytelling, cinematographers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma push the limits of the cameras. The lack of light at night and the use of shadow give Honeyland a unique visual palette from any films in 2019. The oranges and yellows of fire create soft glows and flickers. The sky somehow feels even larger than one would think possible. The night hides its own terrors, and the team wisely leaves those horrors in the dark. During the day, the abundance of flowers and bees highlights the bright sun. The crew finds angles that feel dangerous and unique, especially on the mountain. The camerawork feels greater than one would expect from a documentary. Like Free Solo, the audience leaves with a grander appreciation for the natural world.
Honeyland uses universal ideas and themes to resonate with its audience. A personal and emotional tale, Honeyland hits home. At the same time, the wonder and spectacle of the story cannot be ignored. Its protagonist feels special and unique. While she may lament the life she could have had, the paths she may have taken, or the children she never had, Hatidze’s story has been immortalized. As an expert in bees, she deserves recognition. Yet her lessons on what it means to be human will stay with me forever.