Humans are entitled creatures. Our superiority complexes prevent us from acknowledging our relationship with the natural world to be one of mutualism, not parasitism. Though a cynical thought, it seems ingrained in our psyche to take as much as possible with minimal reciprocation. A prime example of this greed is found in our treatment of bees, one of the most central species to sustaining our environment.
Bees embody balance, buzzing behind the scenes to maintain the agricultural life-cycle through pollination. Despite their centrality to the flow of our daily lives, society rarely witnesses the magic of bees, and thus fails to respect it. The sole female beehunter in Europe, Hatidze Muratova’s world revolves around bees, a dynamic that is jeopardized when a new family disturbs the peace in Honeyland, seeking to learn the craft of beekeeping under the incentive of pure profit. Though the plot revolves around beekeeping, at the core of the film, “Honeyland” is a much deeper message about greed, solitude and human connection, a message that pushes us all to reflect on our interactions with the world around us and the ways we treat one another.
A concept the film reiterates again and again is harmony. Before the arrival of the Sam family, Hatidze’s circle was relatively small, consisting of her sick mother, a few animal companions and, of course, her bees. Whenever she makes the long journey up to the beehive, it is so clear from the way that she gently lifts away the rockface and coaxes the bees off of the honeycomb, that her attitude toward the insects is one of honor and understanding. Among the swarms of bees, Hatidze appears at peace, unbothered by buzzing and fearless of stings.
With the arrival of the Sams, the atmosphere of peace and symmetry is instantaneously interrupted. The family is loud, unruly and eager to learn the ways of beekeeping, which Hatidze willingly teaches them. Though she enjoys the companionship that the Sam family brings, her tone soon changes when she realizes that the patriarch, Hussein Sam, has no intention of cultivating a give-and-take relationship with the bees. The evolution of the relationship between Hatidze and the family from neighborly to hostile is exemplified through the change in behavior of the bees. Under Hatidze’s care, the bees are calm and behaved, whereas under Hussein, they are feisty, stinging Hussein and his children left and right. This juxtaposition hints at the film’s larger theme of the bonds people form with their environments. While Hatidze regards the bees as companions and business partners for selling honey, Hussein only perceives them as temporary resources, meant to be used and then discarded.
Through the differing attitudes of these two characters, directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov prompt audiences to consider their own ties to the world around them. Do we treat the planet with respect, with an approach of reciprocation, or do we simply view the world as an asset, destined to be used up?