In an industry increasingly enthused by the possibilities of world-building, franchises and so forth. The ability and chance for any filmmaker to craft something wholly unique and fully realized is damningly rare. Greener Grass finds just that with two filmmakers. Written, directed, produced and starring Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, the duo are clearly sharp parodists, and they spare no one in their evisceration of suburban superficiality. Expanding on their original short film of the same title, this lengthier treatment may incite some moments of okay-we-get-it antsiness, but this wickedly weird (and often wonderfully funny) suburban satire crams more inventive ideas and clear-eyed perspective into its ninety-five minute runtime than most billion-dollar franchises have done over the course of a dozen movies.
In DeBoer and Luebbe’s suburban world each and everyone of its suburbanites feel as if they’ve walked out of a bubblegum imaginarium. The guys (which includes Beck Bennett and Neil Casey) wear pastel golf shirts and madras shorts while barbecuing with hearty cheer in their lush backyards. The women work full-time to fit in, driving color-matched golf carts to run errands, cooking Pinterest-worthy meals, and arranging immaculate homes. Oh, and did I mention that nearly every adult has braces? But from there I’d rather not say more, hoping to not give away some of the great surrealistic, bonkers reveals. The pieces of it all may not entirely fall together by the end of the film’s swift runtime, but the cracks that emerge are an interesting kind, with plenty to see in between. As we go forward in the franchise-centric industry, and if there’s any justice in the world, DeBoer and Luebbe will be allowed to keep crafting their own singular works, and as long as they do, I’ll keep checking back in. While at times feeling stretched out to point of repetition, you come to Greener Grass for a deeply bizarre, imaginative, suburban surrealist tone, and that’s what you grandly get.
Before a beekeeper can scrape a single honeycomb, they must first settle that life is pain. We watch a lot of people get stung by a lot of bees in the new documentary Honeyland, and it looks like it hurts just as much every single time. The film’s primary subject, Hatidze Muratova, handles her colony without the protection of gloves, and though she has formed a seemingly superhuman bond to her insect companions, they’re still liable to cop the occasional attitude and take up a suicide mission just to cause her a few minutes of stabbing agony. Bees can be volatile, unpredictable animals; they turn on frightened children, the caretakers responsible for their survival, and, at one point, a defenseless infant. What could compel a person to devote their life to such a hazardous, punishing purpose? But Muratova isn’t your ordinary beekeeper. In fact, she’s apparently the last of Macedonia’s nomadic beekeepers, that detail is never made explicit, fitting the film’s strictly observational approach, but it doesn’t really need to be: The more time we spend watching her stick her bare hands into natural stone nests and sing old folk songs to her buzzing swarms, the more obvious it becomes that she’s one-of-a-kind.
Muratova is at once both younger and older than her late-forties self first suggests. Her face is weathered and weepy, the skin on her nose appearing to bulb from the countless stings it has presumably endured during her time on the job (again, this is explicitly said). On the other hand, Muratova swiftly moves around the arid countryside with the giddy sparkle of a child, and spars with her half-blind eighty-six-year-old mother like a teenager (their bracingly intimate nighttime chats are shot with a disaffected honesty of a hidden camera). Her life may appear to be simple, but she is not, and the film never condescends to her the way that well-intentioned documentaries often do to their rustic subjects.
Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov throughout clearly respect Muratova’s interiority, and don’t presume to know what she’s thinking. Their six-person crew lived on the lot beside her for three years, and some of the stray moments they captured hint at all the moments they never could. Her world is rocked when a Turkish man, Hussein Sam, and his very large family (eight others to be exact) move in right next to her and her mother, bringing a heaping amount of plot conflict along with them. At first, the beekeeper is happy enough for the company, but even the artful camera work suggests the outside disturbance running as a deeper undercurrent: Kotevska and Stefaov often use shallow focus to express how the Sam family has imbalanced a once-holistic environment. Muratova plays with the younger children and soon teaches the curious Hussein about her business, as he’s looking to feed his large family, but doesn’t exactly go well and only adds to the already simmering fire between both parties.
Watching Honeyland is often like looking at the greatest problems of our time through a pinhole, but the film sees the situation with a clarity that gets under your skin and, frankly, breaks you heart. This is a tender story about the chaos of abandoning the common good. By reflecting Muratova’s relationship with her hives against the social contract that she’s formed with her mother, Kotevska and Stefanov shine a light on what the bees have always told us: They survive by serving each other. And if they ever disappeared completely, people would only have themselves to blame. Absorbing you into one woman’s world, Honeyland is a lovely, heartrending movie of such particular rhythms and textures, such concise observations, all telling a moving tale of struggle, persistence and the forever change.