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TAMARA KOTEVSK, LJUBOMIR STEFANOV: HONEYLAND/ Медена Земја (2018) - NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2019

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HATIDZE MURATOVA IN HONEYLAND

No matter how remote, your environment is in danger

Austere but rich, Kotevsk and Stefanov's Honeyland is one of the most immersive and atmospheric documentaries you will see this year. No narration is necessary. This film has only the limitation of its restrictive life. At the center of it, living in an abandoned Macedonian village, is Hatidze or Atidze Muratova, a small, tough birdlike woman of 55 with an easy smile, lined face, and big crooked teeth who tends her bee colonies with expertise and respect and her mother, with whom she lives, out of love and duty. Her mother Nazife is 85, not planning on dying, "just making your life misery," she says, declaring she's become a tree. She is half blind and does not stretch or go outside.

Hatidze is busy. What she does is wild beekeeping, or bee hunting, in hives she finds behind slabs of stone. Her easy skill with bees is clear, her respect for the sustainability of her task. She removes the combs like books from a shelf, easily, gently. She is cooperative, non-invasive. Look how she is with her skinny graceful dog at the very end of the film. She has a knack for nature that's almost elegant. She is good also with people, trading fairly and confidently to shopkeepers in the market in the capital, Skopje, touting the healthy and medicinal quality of her honey. Hatidze is a good person.

What a bare life this is. Comforts are dye for Hatidze's hair, tying it up with a nice scarf with rocky village chic, favoring yellow and green, a fan for her mother, and a little transistor radio hooked up once to a small speaker atop a pole she tries to broadcast music, but she gets only snatches of a song here or there. Herself, she sings. She cries and calls and sings to the bees when she is working them.

The film is the result of three years of shooting by this team. As will happen with diligent documentarians, the reward of a significant event arrives: new neighbors appear with a dinky, antique trailer, seven unruly kids, and a bunch of calves. The man, Hussein Sam, takes up bee keeping too, but despite Hatidze's advice, never learns the way of it, or will not, because he is greedy for instant rewards and has not the necessary patience and respect that nature requires. We learn from Hatidze that you take half the honey and leave the other half to the bees. This maintains the balance. Take too much, and the bees will die, or attack Hatidze's bees. Sam takes too much, and both things happen.

One of the boys bonds with Hatidze. He understand them and respects her way with them. "If I had had a son like you. . . " she says. But his family doesn't understand the balance. But the neighbors are a nightmare. They are lazy and quarrelsome and the do serious damage. Their rampages cause the destruction of a lot of Hatidze's bees, their own, and, finally many of their young calves die due to the fat wife's carelessness. All goes wrong, angering even Hatidze's quiet mother. "May God burn their livers" is one of her last declarations. And then, after all their damage, they pick up and leave. Perhaps nature will regain its equilibrium again somehow. At the end, Hatidze's seen looking forward, alone, hopeful, strong.

This simple film is nonetheless superb and hard to improve upon. Kudos to the cinematography of Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma with its naturally gorgeous compositions of rocky hillside, animals, and ruined village architecture, the deep color of the clothes and gnarly skin in the market, the clear natural light. Much respect also to the filmmakers Tamara Kotevsk and Ljubomir Stefanov for their personal human sense of the observational documentary style, which makes this film so memorable.

Honeyland, 85 mins., debuted at Sundance (reviewed there by Guy Lodge for Variety and by Shiri Linden for Hollywood Reporter). It was screened for this review as part of the Mar.-Apr. 2019 MoMA-Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series.

ND/NF Showtimes: April 3, 6:15 PM; April 5, 6:30 PM
New York Premiere · Q&As with Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov on April 3 & 5


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HATIDZE MURATOVA IN HONEYLAND

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