Sunday, September 16, 2012

Honey (orig. Bal) [2010]

MPAA (Unrated / would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -

Honey (orig. Bal) [2010] (directed and cowritten by Semih Kaplanoglu along with Orçun Köksal) is an award-wining, gentle movie from Turkey (subtitled) that played recently as part of a film series entitled  Landscapes: A Tour of Recent Turkish Cinema which was organized by Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center and is playing there throughout the month of September, 2012.   I have been repeatedly impressed by the various programs that the Film Center, affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago itself somewhat legendary in this city, has offered.  Having known over the course of my life a non-inconsequential number of Turks (and honestly always impressed by their kindness), and knowing something of Turkey's emerging/reemerging role in the world as a true bridge between Europe/The West and the Middle East, I browsed through the Film Center's program and identified several films that I thought would be interesting to see (and hopefully will fit within the time constraints of my "day job" ;-).  The first of these films was this one.

Honey (orig. Bal) [2010] is about a 6 year old boy named Yosuf (played by Bora Altas) and his father Yakup (played by Erdal Besikçioglu) and mother Zehra (played by Tülin Özen).  Together they live at the outskirts of a small village in the mountains of Rize Province in Turkey.  There, they have a small, mostly subsistence farm.  Besides raising chickens and other farm animals, they have a field or grove where they raise plants for tea, and along with other men from the village Yakup is also a traditional bee-keeper.

Traditional bee-keeping in that part of Turkey involves searching out and planting hives high among the trees of the surrounding forests and then returning to harvest the honey that the hives produce.  (I found the way of live described in the movie remarkably similar to that of the rubber-tapping Seringueros of Acre, Brazil where my religious Order, the Friar Servants of Mary have operated a Mission since the 1920s have been involved in organizing them and protecting their way of life in face of the rapid destruction of the Amazonian rain-forest.  One of the heroes (and martyrs) of the Brazilian Seringuero movement was Chico Mendes a layperson who our Brazilian Servites knew very, very well).

Returning to the traditional bee-keeping method presented in this film ... It is clear that though gentle, eminently _sustainable_ it is also quite dangerous.  One has to climb those trees to put up those hives.  Then, even though the bee keepers would use smoke to distract the bees and wear much of the same gear as beekeepers in the West to protect themselves from bee stings, the harvesting of the honey necessarily happens up in those trees.  So it's not the easiest way to make a living or earn some additional income.  But this is something that many of the men of this region have known how to do for a very long time and so it is considered to be part of their way of life.  Indeed, Yakup would take his son along on some of his honey harvesting journeys into the forest.

At the same time, the trappings of 20th-21st century civilization has certainly reached this part of Turkey as well.  The family does use a wood-burning stove for cooking and heat, but it does have electricity and even a fairly large modern refrigerator.  Yosuf also goes to a school in the town (where he doesn't necessarily do all that well, but he is a student).

The family is also devoutly and gently Muslim.  At the beginning of the day, Jakup has his son read aloud an entry from an almanac which ends always ends with saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed from the Hadith.  There's also a scene showing Josuf watching with admiration his father, Jakup, gently getting-up early in the morning to do his (pre-dawn) morning prayers.

So theirs not necessarily an easy life living at the outskirts of a village itself in the mountains of northern Turkey, but it appears to be lovely one.  (I would add that the mist-filled cinematography of this film is absolutely beautiful).

Then one morning, Yakup along with a few of the men from the village set-out to go on a several days long excursion into the woods to check-up on their hives... and the rest of the movie follows.

No nothing scandalous happens but I think that the Reader will probably put together the dots.  This film follows in the tradition of a long line of gentle, yet eminently sad depictions of life of common people often with little children. Ladri di Bicicletti [1948], Nuovo Cinema Paradiso [1988], Kolja [1996], Central Station (orig. Central do Brasil) [1998] all come to mind and certainly this film, Honey (orig. Bal) [2010], deserves to be in their company.  It's a lovely film (and in the United States it appears available on DVD at Netflix and  But definitely bring some kleenex.

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  1. Thank you for attending the first ever Turkish Film Fest in Chicago, and for your lovely review of "Honey". We're glad you enjoyed the film (I am one of the people who helped organize the festival) and we hope to see you at future showings as well!


    Esra Tasdelen

  2. Hello Esra, it was a pleasure to attend. I'll see if I can still attend one or two of the other films (It's hard to get away during the week. I was wondering actually if there would be a place were I could rent a couple of the other films (obviously with English subtitles).