The best saints are those who would strenuously deny that they are one. That is because their basic humanity is so hard-wired inside their being, they don’t have to think about how to treat others or how to not abuse what Mother Nature has provided us. Kindness, consideration and decency are just how they roll, no matter the hardships and negativity that might arise in their lives.
Hatidze Muratova, the 55-year-old Macedonian beekeeper at the center of Honeyland, directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, is one of those special creatures. She is the star of this cautionary saga of how abusing the environment and not taking responsibility for your actions will come back to bite you.
At first, we get to appreciate her rustic existence among a glorious hilly landscape as she tends to her half-blind and bed-ridden mother and hangs out with her hound dog and a couple of cats in her cozy abode. We initially get to see how this apiary whisperer as she carefully collects honey from a colony that is secured inside a nearby stone wall. She sings and talks to the buzzy mob without getting stung, making sure to leave half the honey behind for the bees. Hatidze takes a train to a market in Skopje, where vendors will gladly pay for her delicious wares. She buys food and other practical goods. But I love that she has one lone vanity. While she usually wears a colorful scarf for her head, Hatidze splurges on chestnut-hued hair dye to hide her gray locks.
But her mostly idyllic life is interrupted by the arrival of Hussein, his wife, Ljutvie and their large brood of rambunctious children. Turns out they speak Turkish, just like Hatidze. She initially welcomes their presence and treats the children well, as she plays with the toddlers and shows her beekeeping ropes to one of the older boys.
Hussein, however, puts little effort into learning about the land he is occupying, the cows he is herding and, yes, the bees that he is keeping in large boxes in the hopes of cashing in. But unlike Hatidze, he bumbles his way through the process and he and his unpaid family work force are duly stung, both literally and metaphorically, as he blames everyone but himself for his mistakes. Eventually, he selfishly ends up doing harm to Hatidze’s source of income as well.
While the filmmakers were tasked with looking at conservation efforts in the region, they lucked into a timely cautionary tale when it comes to the damage done by those who have little regard for anyone but their own welfare. What is on screen is a poetic microcosm of what happens when self-serving enterprises become the norm while those who care are pushed aside.