Honey (Bal)

Turkey (2010) Dir. Semih Kaplanoglu

In a remote part of the Turkish countryside six year-old Yusuf (Bora Altas) lives with his bee keeping father Yakup (Erdal Besikçioglu) and his mother Zahra (Tülin Özen). They live a quiet and modest existence but things slowly begin to crumble for them. Yakup’s bees seem to be disappearing meaning their honey intake is down sending his further afar to fins some more. Meanwhile Yusuf, who has been having realistically frightening dreams about his father, is also suffering at school at his progress in learning to read is stalling. Then Yakup fails to return from latest honey collecting trip.

Honey is actually the last film in the Yusuf Trilogy from director Semih Kaplanoglu with the two predecessors being Egg (2007) and Milk (2008) although unusually the story is told across the trio of films in reverse chronological order. But you don’t have to have seen the prior films to watch this one as it is accessible as a lone piece. I use the term accessible insofar as not requiring any previous knowledge of the trilogy before viewing this film; as far as mainstream accessibility goes Honey won’t exactly appeal to your average multiplex visitor. Minimalism is the style of the day here with no music and little dialogue employed here beyond the few functional lines required to move things along. The only soundtrack is that of the natural bucolic environment in which our characters live and work.

Thus there is no real story other than the daily happenings of this small family. Yusuf has a stutter yet seems to only communicate properly with his father while remaining silent with everyone else, including his mother. At school, he remains in solitude. Yusf tries to memorise a piece of text the others are reading out loud so he can earn a badge for his reading, but the teacher chooses a different text and Yusuf’s stutter makes him a laughing stock. At home, Yusuf tries to tell his father about his dreams but is advised that dreams should never be told or should be whispered if necessary, so Ysusf conducts all future conversations with Yakup by whispering. Yakup’s disappearance doesn’t occur until very late into the film meaning there is no building of tensions at home between Yusuf and his mother. Instead their plight of living without Yakup may only get thirty minutes of screentime but is handled in the same laidback and controlled manner as the rest of the film, rife with nice little touches as young Yusuf begins to understand his mother’s concerns.

It is these little touches which make this film as one never knows when something that initially seems innocuous will become relevant later on. Kaplanoglu doesn’t spoon feed the audience so attention is the key but with such a natural and captivating performance from young Bora Altas it is difficult to tear your eyes from the screen anyway. It is remarkable how this youngster has such a commanding on-screen presence at such an early age but he does and he carries the whole film on his tiny shoulders, not to take anything away from his senior co-stars.

There is a touching little film to be found among the slow pace, deafening silence and brooding atmosphere of the Turkish countryside and while Honey may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Kaplanoglu has shown that you can make an emotionally arresting film about the family unit without resorting to overbearing sentimentality and melodrama.