In a new column, Zanna Gillespie and her husband Greg Bruce each week review a film and discuss it. This week, Honeyland.
The distributors of Honeyland offered us a copy of the film to watch at home, which suited me fine, although Zanna was disappointed because we have been to the cinema five times since having our first child six years ago. Anyway, the kids went to bed relatively early, we turned the lights off in the lounge and she scooped some Lewis Road mint chocolate chip icecream into coffee mugs. She would clink her teaspoon relentlessly against that crockery for the first 10-15 minutes of the movie, during which time the director was trying to evoke the landscape's quality of deep silence.
Our relationship has a long history of being tested by films. One of our formative dates was to the opening film of the 2011 New Zealand Film Festival, Florian Habicht's Love Story. I didn't like it and was furious that she did. We were married the next year. As recently as last week, after we watched Parasite at home on our couch, we argued about it so wildly and tangentially she ended up claiming Steven Seagal's 1992 film Under Siege, which she has never seen, qualifies as art.
Part of our issue is that she knows more about film than I do, which makes logical sense because she has a masters in screen production (University of Auckland, 2011) while I have a degree in journalism (Auckland Institute of Technology, 1998). I suspect my inferiority complex-driven, over-compensatory film analyses annoy her but, then again, I am a middle-aged white man.
Honeyland opened with a screen full of white umbrellas, one of which slowly turned yellow. I said, "Oooohh, the colour of honey!" which angered her because she hates me talking during movies. This shot turned out to be a promo for Umbrella Entertainment and not part of the film at all.
At the end of the movie, a beautiful documentary with bafflingly intimate access to its subjects, a movie which makes grand and eloquent points about family, society and commerce via the tiny story of a woman and her mother living in a deserted hamlet, I said, "Do you want me to explain the film to you?"
She said, "Do you want to explain the film to me?"
In a heavily sarcastic tone, she said, "Go ahead, enlighten me."
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I wasn't deterred by the tone, with which I am familiar. I said there were some strong narrative elements, starting with the bookending shots of the central character walking along a frighteningly narrow path high up a cliff and that these elements told a story of "Woman Against Nature". I said: "When other people eventually infiltrated her elemental idyll, they f***ed things up, as people always do."
I said, "I think the message is: 'Live by yourself; people are problematic.'"
"Okaaaaay," she said.
"It's problematic, yes," I said. "That's not to say it's not relevant."
"You've gone quite far," she said. "You've made quite a big leap there."
"In which part?"
"First of all assuming they're trying to give us any kind of message."
"No," I said, "That's what happened,"
She ignored that. "Second," she said, "that the message is 'You should live by yourself.'"
She knew, she told me, I was only saying these things to provoke an argument for the sake of making this review more interesting but that was wrong: I hate arguments. I was just trying to think of something intelligent to say. That was the best I could come up with.
We both liked the movie.
Here are some statements my husband has made in the last couple of weeks:
"Movies are boring."
"Films are not art."
"I don't like movies anymore."
You would be right in thinking it's antithetical for someone with such contempt for film to take on a film review or even be qualified to do so - he is not. But my husband routinely overestimates the value of his own opinions, so I wouldn't say I was surprised when he pitched to me that he and I become Canvas magazine's new film reviewing team.
With his outrageous proclamations about film in mind, it gave me great joy to see him eat his words (something we should probably discuss with a licensed therapist), when both he and I revelled in Honeyland. He wasn't bored, he liked it a lot and I think he would even agree it was a work of art.
The documentary follows Hatidze, a bee keeper who lives with her incapacitated 85-year-old mother in the mountains of northern Macedonia. When a nomadic family arrives next door and attempts some cowboy-style bee-keeping of their own, the film becomes like a high-brow crossover episode of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Neighbours at War - but with a great deal more subtlety.
Every frame of Honeyland is stunning to look at. Film-makers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov spent three years shooting their subjects, which accounts for the incredibly intimate access they were granted into Hatidze's life – present at some of life's most vulnerable moments. They reportedly had over 400 hours of footage, which was edited down into this 85-minute story. If you think about that too much, it will make you question how true-to-life something this meticulously crafted could possibly be.
However, the film-makers' presence is barely felt in the film. It feels breathtakingly - and at times heartbreakingly - authentic. It's a quiet, observational film that gives the viewer much to ponder about the environment and our relationship to it and one that a certain kind of movie-goer might even consider, gasp, boring.
I have spent the last 10 years watching film and peak television with Canvas' brand new film-hating film reviewer, Greg Bruce. I can report it is painfully common for him to turn something off after less than 15 minutes and not once did he attempt to do that during Honeyland, which is about the highest praise a film could get.
I, too, adored this film but, as I think you'll learn, I'm a much more forgiving and hopeful viewer than my curmudgeonly husband. It will be a small miracle if our marriage survives these film reviews and, if it doesn't, the pages of this magazine will contain the intimate and vulnerable moments of our unravelling relationship, undoubtedly less artfully conveyed than the disintegrating relationships in the film Honeyland. We will be petty.
Scores (out of 5):
Quantity of honey: 5
Quantity of bees: 5
Quality of post-movie argument: 1