“HONEYLAND” — 3½ stars — Hatidze Muratova, Nazife Muratova, Hussein Sam, Ljutvie Sam; not rated; Broadway; running time: 85 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — “Honeyland” is the kind of documentary that likes to show rather than tell.
Featured earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and set in what is now known as North Macedonia in Eastern Europe, “Honeyland” follows a middle-aged beekeeper named Hatidze Muratova as she struggles to maintain her livelihood against some new nomadic neighbors.
We meet Hatidze as she crosses a vast, desolate landscape, eventually crossing a cliff outcrop to reach a tiny beehive concealed in the rocky face. It’s a striking introduction to a woman who lives in simple circumstances and feels tied to the land. When we follow her home, it appears to be little more than a pile of rocks.
Directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov without narration or talking head interviews, “Honeyland” patiently reveals the routines of Hatidze’s life. We watch her tend to her bees, collecting honey and singing to them as they buzz around gracefully in the morning light. Hatidze also tends to her 88-year-old mother Nazife, who lives with her and rarely goes out. From time to time, Hatidze journeys to the nearby capital of Skopje — by foot and then train — to sell her wares to the vendors in the markets.
Watching Hatidze’s routine is compelling enough on its own. Despite her humble lifestyle, she still takes the time to shop for hair product when she’s in the city, and her conversations with her mother suggest she had more traditional aspirations for her life. But “Honeyland” takes a fascinating twist when a family of nomadic Turks move in next door with their camper and a herd of cattle.
Next to the quiet grace of Hatidze’s home life, Hussein Sam and his family are agents of chaos, fighting the cattle and each other in scenes that draw a stark contrast. At first, the two families exist in a pensive harmony and Hatidze tries to mentor some of the Sams’ children. But after a conversation about her beekeeping, Hussein decides to embark on a honey business of his own, producing for a man named Safet at a much larger and considerably more unrefined scale.
“Honeyland” is fascinating, presented at a natural pace in a way that feels like a scripted, live-action film but remains an intimate documentary. We get an unflinching look at life in rural Macedonia, and close-up shots of the bees at work are intercut with slice of life scenes such as a live calf birth.
Thanks to rich cinematography from Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, “Honeyland” is a joy just to watch, capturing everything from the bees to the dramatic lighting inside Hatidze and Nazife’s home. Overall, the film is a memorable portrait of a region and its people, and a vivid lesson about the nature of craft and hard work.
Rating explained: “Honeyland” is not rated but would likely draw a PG-13 for a few scattered uses of R-rated profanity (subtitled) as well as some mature content (such as the live calf birth). It is presented in Turkish with English subtitles.