A rugged old bee whisperer takes us to Honeyland

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      Starring Hatidze Muratova. In Turkish, with English subtitles. Rated PG

      There's not much milk, a smattering of human kindness, and a whole lot of sticky stuff in Honeyland, a fablelike look at life in a remote region of the world.

      This brief, sometimes gruelling movie is labelled a documentary, and the nonprofessionals in front of the expansive, probing camera here pretty much play themselves.

      The colourful action centres on a middle-aged woman called Hatidze, as craggy and worn as the rugged landscape she wanders. She's part of a small Turkish-speaking minority of the former Yugoslavian state of Macedonia, eking out a living alongside her ancient, half-blind mother (Nazife Muratova), gathering honey in cliffside holes and dead-tree alcoves.

      A kind of bee whisperer, she's able to collect honeycombs with minimal intrusion and maximal respect for nature. She sings, and the bees don't sting.

      They live in an isolation that is blessed or cursed, depending on your point of view. (Mom is in dire need of medical attention, but no one addresses that.)

      Because all good idylls must come to an end, there is the sudden arrival of noisy new neighbours: the Sam family, also of Turkish background, with crude-mouthed parents and at least seven children, all battered by cattle too numerous to count.

      The kids are soon drawn to the local woman and her folksy ways. But when the parents get wind of her subsistence approach to beekeeping, you can guess what happens.

      Codirectors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov discovered their apiary subject and spent roughly (very roughly) three years encamped nearby, shooting her travails and small victories. No one acknowledges the presence of filmmakers, and you are left to wonder what parts of this tidily emblematic survival tale are contrived and which unfolded as nature apparently intended.

      It's not clear if we should view Hatidze as a real person or a homely symbol of vanishing innocence. And perhaps it doesn't matter. Honeyland digs into hidden chambers of life, and doesn't employ any additional sweeteners.

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