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Movie Review: 'Honeyland' Thrives In Its Contradictions

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Ljubo Stefanov
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This year’s Documentary Oscar nominees tackled some pretty lofty topics. The war in Syria, tensions between U.S. and Chinese business practices, the eroding of democracy, and, of course, beekeeping in Macedonia.

OK, I’m poking a little fun, that last one might not seem so weighty, but its inclusion with those others shows how strong the movie, Honeyland, really is. And it’s probably the best of a very impressive group, and the one most likely to endure.

Honeyland seems to exist both outside of time and also entirely in the moment. It shows us a world so different from ours, but is still immediately recognizable and relevant. And it does it all with beauty, modesty, and humanity.

We open with a woman scaling the side of a mountain, removing a stone from a rock wall to reveal a bee colony. She has the kind of face only a real person who’s truly lived can have, and we see her quiet life in a small village with her seemingly ancient mother. It must be difficult, but we’re not given that indication—the serene pace and meditative drone of the bees make it appear almost idyllic.

But then, in one of those quirks of life documentarians dream of, a large family moves in next door, and they present a chaos that’s comical, frustrating, and devastating. They’re the sort of problematic neighbors many of us know, who make too much noise on summer nights and cause trouble that’s both unexpected and entirely too predictable. Still, even that presents an opportunity, as our beekeeper develops a relationship with one of the children that reveals deeper levels of character and dreams that went unfulfilled.

Honeyland is a gorgeous work, the sort of movie that connects us to our world in ways we can’t imagine, that fills us with the joys and heartbreaks of life, and that leaves us with the feeling that we’re all part of something bigger.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.