HONEYLAND presents a snapshot of an often overlooked part of Europe: The Republic of Macedonia, or North Macedonia, as it was recently renamed. The setting is mostly rural, apart from a few scenes filmed in a market in Skopje, the capital city. Cinematographers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma do great work capturing the beauty of the countryside, making HONEYLAND deserving of the big screen.
The central figure in this documentary is Hatidze Muratova, a middle-aged beekeeper who cares for her sick and elderly mother. It is fascinating watching Hatidze work with her bees, not even needing any protective gloves. There are some intimate close-ups of the bees themselves, but the focus is not only on Hatidze and her mother. The two women are neighbours with a boisterous family and conflict ensues when they also try a hand at beekeeping.
In its hour and a half running time, HONEYLAND encompasses numerous generations, from the recently born to the elderly and dying. These stages of human life are paralleled in the animals we see in the film, from clumsy calves to buzzing bees.
Whilst HONEYLAND certainly serves as an excellent insight into rural life in North Macedonia, and the hardships that often come with it, the film is also about a more universal theme: the relationship between humans and non-human animals or, more widely, between humans and the natural world. If Hatidze and her bees demonstrate the meaning of a symbiotic relationship, with Hatidze careful to leave the bees half of their honey so that they do not die out, the father of the family next door exemplifies the pressures of modern capitalism on traditional ways of life.
The film is no over-the-top dramatisation, however, and no one is depicted as a clear-cut hero or villain. Indeed, what is striking about the film is the sense of intimacy achieved by directors Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, whilst this feeling intrusive. In a clever move by Lebanese sound designer Rana Eid, there is little extradiegetic music in the film, which has the effect of amplifying the natural sounds of the countryside.
Although it is no idyllic depiction of rurality, HONEYLAND will serve as a refreshing cinematic escape for city dwellers, who may have forgotten what it feels like to live in a world free of cars, internet and television.