The first and final part in Semih Kaplanoglu’s Yusuf trilogy, Honey is a tender portrait of childhood.
Sweet Child Of Mine by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers.
Honey (Bal) is the first and final part of Semih Kaplanoglu’s chronologically backward Yusuf Trilogy, following Egg (Yumurta) and Milk (Süt) in its portrait of Yusuf’s childhood; his love for his father, his nervous struggling at school or the family tragedy that befalls his tender years. If Egg is Yusuf’s ripening adulthood, his mother’s death and romantic attachment, and Milk the graduate’s suckling career as a poet, Honey is sweet infant innocence, delicately enveloping the symbols of his future – the milk his mother gives him that he refuses to drink until his conspiratorial father is no longer there to drink it for him or the eggs he retrieves from the chicken coop for now destined only for his mother and her cake baking.
The first chapter of Kaplanoglu’s Bildungsroman is filled with the trials and tribulations of childhood played out against the mournful tinkle of the falconry bell constantly jangling in his pocket. The ennui, aimlessly filling time playing with his mother’s ring on the kitchen table. The guilt, getting his school friend Hamdi in trouble for not doing his homework when he swaps exercise books. The earnest striving for approval, coveting the red badge his teacher gives to pupils who read well in class, ham-strung by stuttering nerves. The tearful jealousy, has his father given the toy boat he was making to Hamdi instead? The joy of being with his father, initiated into a secret world of bears, bees, flowers and honey. Like Kiarostami’s Where Is The Friend’s House? it’s a nostalgically familiar evocation of a child’s wide-eyed view of life.
With only one pair of carefully underused shoes, Yusuf is unable to join the other children in the playground during break times, confined instead to the classroom where he’s entranced by an older girl reading Rimbaud’s poem Sensation, a brief glimmer of his future career. Like Kaplanoglu’s Bal it’s textural and sensual, it’s blue summer evenings and pricking corn replaced by forest green, skin and wood, its score a melody of every rustle and tinkle. And yet the world of innocence conjured up in Honey is no rose-tinted nostalgia.
Like Yusuf’s more capable reading at home, the film is intricately ambiguous – is he reading or has he learnt it by heart? Honey is unassumingly haunted by the spectre of his father’s disappearance and most probable death. Yusuf dreams about his father’s death, imagining his father climbing an unfamiliar tree to plant bees, only for the bough to snap and for Yakub to impale himself on a lower branch. Just as his mother dreams of a bee-planting trip to a familiar spot, forced beyond the rampant flowers into lands unknown for a lack of bees. It’s a political metaphor, where tea cultivation forces the bees and subsequently Yakub further away and into danger, the delicate balance of life in Anatolia ecologically and irreversibly skewed.
Mortality is present throughout the film, from Kaplanoglu’s anti-dramatic structure to Yakub’s epileptic fit, later to be embodied in Yusuf, and the brief glimpse of the tearful women outside his house which causes Yusuf to flee, curling up in a tree’s root for paternal solace. The Holy Night mirja encapsulates the film’s schemata; “Of wine, milk and honey, I chose milk.” Yusuf’s paternal spiritualism is eclipsed by the milk-lapping rapprochement to his mother, and maternal earthliness. And perhaps there’s a nod to a missed fourth part of Yusuf’s story – Wine, his old age and misspent adulthood.
Beautifully lensed by cinematographer Baris Ozbicer, Honey is a highly evocative and poetic portrait of childhood. Downplaying the tragedy, Kaplanoglu keeps his story within the consciousness of his boy hero, flight rather than comprehension, simultaneously bitter and pragmatic. That he can manage such introspection through image alone is testament to Kaplanoglu’s dramatic and cinematic skill. Honey is no saccharine childhood nostalgia, but it’s certainly bittersweet.
Honey is released in the UK on 15th July 2011