MIELE (Honey)

It's hardly an obvious choice to start off a directing career by choosing assisted suicide as a subject. But, in what is not a flaw but a feature, that isn't really the main subject of esteemed Italian actress Valeria Golino's debut Honey. It's more of a background, a plot device, that propels the film's heroine, the independently-minded and determined loner Irene, forward only to become the "glitch" that forces her to change. "Honey" is Irene's codename within a close-knit underground group of "angels of death", helping terminally ill patients to die peacefully at home.

     A former med student who procures veterinarian medicines in regular trips to Mexico and smuggles them into Italy for her "patients", she is portrayed soulfully by Jasmine Trinca and shot by Ms. Golino as a scarred, righteous but self-effacing young woman, detached from the world save for a couple of connections. Then her perfectly organised world is thrown into disarray by a "patient", Roman engineer Carlo (Carlo Cecchi), who doesn't need her help and turns out to not be ill - merely bored with life and wishing to leave it on his own terms. Being asked to help someone die willingly and voluntarily for non-medical reasons completely short-circuits Irene's life, somehow transforming her from "angel of death" into an "angel of life" willing to do anything to prevent Carlo from killing himself, and questioning her own beliefs as she becomes progressively less brittle, more open to the world outside.

     It's clear it's this personal progression that most interests Ms. Golino, and that she is very aware of the pitfalls that "problem pictures" and topical melodramas can usually fall into. She avoids them elegantly, but in the process it also becomes notable that Honey ends up engaging the viewer more intellectually than emotionally; this isn't necessarily a bad thing per se, but it suggests that the director's desire to do a restrained, thoughtful melodrama colours the entire film and follows Irene's own tendency to set her life within rigid, sealed boundaries. Ms. Golino held herself back so much that Honey becomes an amiable but airless proposition that required a little less restraint and a little more spontaneity to do justice to its themes and its actors.

Italy, France 2013
98 minutes
Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Carlo Cecchi, Libero de Rienzo, Vinicio Marchioni, Iaia Forte, Roberto de Francesco
Director Valeria Golino; screenwriters Francesca Marciano, Valia Santelli and Ms. Golino; based on the novel by Mauro Covacich A nome tuo; cinematographer Gergely Poharnok (colour, widescreen); designer Paolo Bonfini; costumes Maria Rita Barbera; editor Giogiò Franchini; producers Riccardo Scamarcio and Viola Prestieri, Buena Onda and Rai Cinema in co-production with Les Films des Tournelles and Cité Films
Screened February 25th 2014 (distributor press screening, Medeia Monumental 1, Lisbon)


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