Movie review: Honeyland is a parable of capitalism

Documentary about a beekeeper in Macedonia takes an intimate look at what happens when neighbours move in and see the profits that can be made



Featuring: Hatidze Muratova


Directed by: Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov


Running time: 87 minutes


Rating: 4 stars out of 5


(In Turkish with English subtitles)

By Jay Stone

Hatidze Muratova, a beekeeper in northern Macedonia, has a craggy, twisted face, snaggled teeth, and leathery skin that has been burnished to a rich brown by the sun. Her nose is a heroic protuberance: Sitting Bull as drawn by Picasso.


She is also something of a philosopher of life. “Half for you and half for me,” she says to the bees, removing honey from the hive she keeps on a steep, frightening mountain path near her stone house. Hatidze takes the honey to Skopje to sell at the market; she uses the money to buy bananas and hair dye for her ailing, 85-year-old mother — an exhausted lump lying on a wooden bed — as they eat together in warm candlelight that makes their dark home look like something that might hang next to the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum.


They also eat a lot of honey, which could account for her teeth.


Hatidze’s life is about to change, however. A raucous family is about to move next door; i.e., a truck pulling a trailer home is about to arrive, bringing a herd of untamed children and, in the next scene, a shockingly large herd of cattle to be prodded, dragged around and assisted in birth through the expedient of yanking the newborn calf right out of the mother. It’s the land of milk and honey, but not as you imagined it.


In the remarkable documentary Honeyland (a multiple winner at Sundance), filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, working over a span of three years, show us the changes that happen when unthinking greed — or, if you like, untrammeled capitalism — arrives on the doorstep of natural wisdom. With a verite camera that is insinuated right into the homes and private conversations of both Hatidze and her new neighbours, the Sams, they have made Honeyland into a parable of both simple messages and complex characters.


Hussein, the paterfamilias of the Sams, is a hustler who has somehow accumulated a kind of wealth, in both his herd of cattle and in his large and chaotic family. The children are aged from about two to about 17, and they spend their days kicking up dust, fighting, and defying their father’s instructions about caring for the animals. When Hussein learns that Hatidze can make money with honey, he moves into that field as well. The problem is, neighbouring bee colonies can become predators if the keeper is not careful to leave them enough honey for themselves: it’s an activity that calls for co-operation and the Sams — prodded by an outside buyer whose greed for honey is reminiscent of one of those old movies about prospectors fighting over gold or Texas landowners hungry for oil — aren’t the co-operative type.


How Kotevska and Stefanov got so close to their subjects over such a long time — and indeed how they had faith that what was unfolding would become such a primal drama — is one of the miracles of Honeyland. The story is told with very little dialogue (what there is comes to us in subtitles that have an unusually large number of spelling errors), and great economy: silhouettes of Hatidze walking across the empty vastness of Macedonia at twilight, for instance, tell us all we need to know about the isolation, beauty and hardships of her life.


Her relationship with her mother is a sort of boiled-down version of the common exasperations of a middle-aged woman coping with an ailing parent. It’s loving, tiring, and humourous all at once, and in it we get glimpses of how she arrived in this far-flung wilderness with just a few cats, a dog and her bees for company. Like beekeeping, it’s a life that requires a very delicate balance, but no one is immune to the noise of avarice.


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2 Replies to "Movie review: Honeyland is a parable of capitalism"

  • Betty MacGregor September 17, 2019 (4:15 am)

    Beautifully written and a wonderful observation of the destructive results of human avarice. It sounds so sad I’m not sure I can bear to watch.

    • Jay Stone September 17, 2019 (5:16 am)

      Thanks Betty, but it’s worth watching. There’s hope in it

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