Across the rugged and mountainous Balkan landscape, “Honeyland” reveals itself first as a story on the dangers within humanity’s witless trampling of natural resources, and second as a tale of survival. The film recites the duality of man through its core conflict between the hardened Hatidze and the problematic strangers who threaten her and her livelihood. Through sweeping shots that posit the Balkan region as an agent in this struggle, the debut documentary of directors Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska is a powerhouse of emotion.
Opening with Hatidze’s tender and well-worked navigation of a rocky landscape, the film immediately defines her as the heroine of the work. With footage taken over three years, the documentary easily settles into the workings of a narrative without ever feeling like one. The film carefully avoids leaning into any tendency to tell a contrived or manufactured story. Rather, the audience is taken through an intimate look into the lives of a community of people much like any others, doing their best and getting by as best as they can.
As such, the near ambiguity of hero and villain, instead of muddling intentions leaves the viewer with what can only be described as a sanguine and honest film.
By exploring Hatidze’s almost paradoxical existence as chronically independent and ever-tied to the mother-daughter bond that grounds everything she does, the film steeps its tale in eccentricities that combat any malaise that could threaten to color the film. With an ailing mother and an ever-present threat, it could easily appear that Hatidze, alone and armed only with her morals, is the David to the intruding Turkish family’s Goliath. Yet, the film strikes an even flow between bitter humor and humanity that never overdramatizes its primary conflict.
Visually, the film drips with the golden honey that drives the narrative. Though it serves as the backdrop of a legitimate struggle, the world of the film and of this community is still beautiful. Hatidze operates on a “half for me, half for them” rule when harvesting honey, and it is this principle that drips from filmmaker to audience: A mutually gratifying and authentic account of the human condition and all that comes with it.