‘Honey’ gets stuck on a very sweet kid

A new Turkish film is essentially silent, sensitive, scenic but slow moving.

By
December 31, 2010 16:26
Honey

Honey 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

HONEY (Bal)
Directed by Semih Kaplanoglu.
Written by Kaplanoglu and Orcun
Koksal. 103 minutes. Hebrew title: Devash. In Turkish.
Check with theaters for subtitle information


Movie critics go to a lot more film festivals than most people, and there are different films that play on the festival circuit than in regular theaters. Sometimes these festival films get a general release, particularly if they have won a big prize at a very important film festival.

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This is the case with Honey, a Turkish film, which is also known as Bal, its Turkish title. It won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious film festival in Europe.

Director Semih Kaplanoglu’s film is a window onto a world so simple, it’s amazing that it can coexist with the rest of modern life. A great many Turkish films are set in Istanbul or Ankara, but Honey takes place in the mountainous Black Sea region. There is almost no technology here, and although it is a contemporary story, it might be taking place 100 years ago.

Yusef (Bora Atlas, one of those preternaturally cute child actors) lives with his father and mother in a quiet cabin in a village. His father, Yakup (Erdal Besikcioglu), a soft-spoken man, climbs very high trees to get honey out of beehives. This occupation, which seems dangerous enough, is more so in his case because he suffers from what seems to be epilepsy. Yusef and his father are very close. The only time the boy doesn’t stutter is when he is with his father. The two speak in whispers, and this seems to help Yusef; but when he’s in school and has to answer questions in a loud, clear voice, he stutters badly. The scenes at the school where Yusef has to speak but can’t are gracefully executed but excruciating.

The movie would be plotless if the boy’s father didn’t go missing one day. The mournful mother and the boy desperately hope that he will return, and they search for him. It is quite clear to the audience what has happened, so you sit and watch it play out.

Because the boy stutters, there isn’t a lot of dialogue, and this beautifully photographed, well-acted film is a bit slow in parts. In many parts, actually.

As I was watching it, I had a bit of time to reflect on the elements that seem to guarantee film festival success: 1. The less the characters talk, the better. Movies about articulate people just don’t seem as profound.

2. There should be a scene that features some bodily fluid. Tears will do, but other options are better.

Here, the boy’s epileptic father drools a lot when he is having a seizure. In The Wanderer, an extremely dull Israeli film about an Orthodox Jew that got a coveted spot in the Cannes Film Festival, a girl vomits and then loses her contact lens, so she and the hero have to search the vomit for it. You are probably disgusted, but I just sighed and thought to myself, “Oh, so that’s why it got into Cannes.”

3. The cast should be mostly, if not all, non-professionals.

4. The cast should feature either or both: a very cute kid or a beautiful young woman who doesn’t mind doing nude scenes if they are essential for the story’s realism.

5. The film should be set in a poverty-stricken area, either urban or rural.

I also had time to ponder the cuteness of this well-behaved boy.

Would it be worth giving up all the trappings of modernity to have a child this obedient? In the movies, the more primitive the society, the better behaved the kids are.

Remember Witness, the 1984 movie about an Amish kid who hides out in his small town with big-city cop Harrison Ford? The kid is a virtual angel. And in the recent film The Road, which is set in a postapocalyptic future, Viggo Mortensen plays the father of a boy of about 10.

This unnamed child is so docile, it made me wish the vast majority of humanity would be destroyed in a cataclysm just so I could have a sweet kid like this who never whines about wanting to watch the Cartoon Network.

Maybe you will get caught up in the mood and atmosphere of Honey, but these are the thoughts that stuck with me after seeing it.Movie critics go to a lot more film festivals than most people, and there are different films that play on the festival circuit than in regular theaters. Sometimes these festival films get a general release, particularly if they have won a big prize at a very important film festival.

This is the case with Honey, a Turkish film, which is also known as Bal, its Turkish title. It won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious film festival in Europe.

Director Semih Kaplanoglu’s film is a window onto a world so simple, it’s amazing that it can coexist with the rest of modern life. A great many Turkish films are set in Istanbul or Ankara, but Honey takes place in the mountainous Black Sea region. There is almost no technology here, and although it is a contemporary story, it might be taking place 100 years ago.

Yusef (Bora Atlas, one of those preternaturally cute child actors) lives with his father and mother in a quiet cabin in a village. His father, Yakup (Erdal Besikcioglu), a soft-spoken man, climbs very high trees to get honey out of beehives. This occupation, which seems dangerous enough, is more so in his case because he suffers from what seems to be epilepsy. Yusef and his father are very close. The only time the boy doesn’t stutter is when he is with his father. The two speak in whispers, and this seems to help Yusef; but when he’s in school and has to answer questions in a loud, clear voice, he stutters badly. The scenes at the school where Yusef has to speak but can’t are gracefully executed but excruciating.

The movie would be plotless if the boy’s father didn’t go missing one day. The mournful mother and the boy desperately hope that he will return, and they search for him. It is quite clear to the audience what has happened, so you sit and watch it play out.

Because the boy stutters, there isn’t a lot of dialogue, and this beautifully photographed, well-acted film is a bit slow in parts. In many parts, actually.

As I was watching it, I had a bit of time to reflect on the elements that seem to guarantee film festival success: 1. The less the characters talk, the better. Movies about articulate people just don’t seem as profound.

2. There should be a scene that features some bodily fluid. Tears will do, but other options are better.

Here, the boy’s epileptic father drools a lot when he is having a seizure. In The Wanderer, an extremely dull Israeli film about an Orthodox Jew that got a coveted spot in the Cannes Film Festival, a girl vomits and then loses her contact lens, so she and the hero have to search the vomit for it. You are probably disgusted, but I just sighed and thought to myself, “Oh, so that’s why it got into Cannes.”

3. The cast should be mostly, if not all, non-professionals.

4. The cast should feature either or both: a very cute kid or a beautiful young woman who doesn’t mind doing nude scenes if they are essential for the story’s realism.

5. The film should be set in a poverty-stricken area, either urban or rural.

I also had time to ponder the cuteness of this well-behaved boy.

Would it be worth giving up all the trappings of modernity to have a child this obedient? In the movies, the more primitive the society, the better behaved the kids are.

Remember Witness, the 1984 movie about an Amish kid who hides out in his small town with big-city cop Harrison Ford? The kid is a virtual angel. And in the recent film The Road, which is set in a postapocalyptic future, Viggo Mortensen plays the father of a boy of about 10.

This unnamed child is so docile, it made me wish the vast majority of humanity would be destroyed in a cataclysm just so I could have a sweet kid like this who never whines about wanting to watch the Cartoon Network.

Maybe you will get caught up in the mood and atmosphere of Honey, but these are the thoughts that stuck with me after seeing it.


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