Picking her way along the edge of a cliff, Hatidze Muratova lives a precarious existence.
She’s one of the last wild beekeepers in Europe. Honeyland—the “most awarded film” at this year’s Sundance festival—is her story.
Hatidze lives in an apparently deserted village in North Macedonia. There, she looks after her ailing mother and makes honey from the honeycomb of the wild bee colonies she curates.
Knowing that she always has to leave enough honeycomb for the bees, Hatidze survives on a reciprocal relationship with the rest of nature.
But when a family of farmers arrive and attempt their own honey-making, they threaten to destroy that balance—and all their lives with it.
The way of life shown here seems as if it belongs to a different time.
The eerie, atmospheric sense of isolation—dwelt on in slow panoramas and contrasted with hints of an encroaching modern society—accentuates that.
It’s possible to see this film simply as some nostalgic, backward-looking critique that blames environmental destruction on human progress.
Yet Hatidze’s life isn’t romanticised. It’s hard, lonely, and occasionally bleak. She’s as comfortable in the streets and markets of the capital city Skopje as she is in the wilderness.
In fact her brief visit to the city seems almost like a relief. She later suggests that, if she’d had the chance, she might have left the village.
Instead, this is a film that has something to say about how a desire to profit from the natural world can end up destroying it. But it doesn’t do it in a way that’s lecturing, hectoring or preachy.
Honeyland shows, not tells. We’re allowed to develop our own thoughts and conclusions as the story gently unfolds.
And if it sometimes feels stylised, that’s alright. The resulting beauty and weirdness justify it.