Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
is a one-person drug mule and agent of death. Not surprisingly, she is very
much inclined to keep people at arm’s length. Personal connections do indeed
lead to complications for the clandestine euthanasia activist in international
movie-star Valeria Golino’s assured feature directorial debut, Honey (“Euro” trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
the euthanasia debate has captured the Italian zeitgeist, considering Honey follows Marco Bellocchio’s Dormant Beauty with an even more
ambiguous take on the prohibited practice. Irene (a.k.a. Honey) is an ardent
believer in the right to die and the duty to assist. Regularly, she travels to
southern California, where she nips across the border for veterinarian-grade
doggie downers that evidently have the advantage of being hard to detect in the
human body. She also administers the drugs, or at least facilitates their use, with
clients referred by her former lover, a doctor who shares her convictions.
house-calls follow a set pattern, involving soothing music, clear consent, and
multiple opportunities to opt out. The latter rarely happens. However, her ethical
compass starts to reel after making a delivery to retired architect Carlo
Grimaldi. In a follow-up conversation, he admits he is not terminally ill, but
simply tired of this mortal coil. Feeling alarmed and slightly betrayed, Irene
rushes to “save” Grimaldi, which he does not take kindly to, at least not
initially. Yet, as she persists in a calmer manner, something begins to develop
between the two—not exactly friendship or a surrogate father-daughter
relationship, but maybe a little of both.
is strange to think such a mature, ethically thorny drama was directed by the
co-star of Hot Shots! Part Deux and Big Top Pee-Wee, but here it is—and it
really is quite a fine work. Golino is clearly an actors’ director, but she
crafts some visually stylish sequences that still never break the film’s
intensely personal and private vibe. Irene is a profoundly reserved character,
whose guarded nature is a deliberate defense strategy. Yet, thanks to Jasmine
Trinca’s exquisitely subtle performance and Golino’s evocative framing, viewers
always have a sense of where her head is at, each and every moment. She is a
powerful screen presence, conveying earthy sexuality, despite her androgynous
also develops some remarkably rich and unclassifiable chemistry with veteran
Italian stage thesp Carlo Cecchi as the inconvenient Grimaldi. Together, they make it impossible to boil
their connection down to an easy cliché. In fact, the entire film defies
reductive labeling, supplying elements during each “mercy” mission that either
side of the euthanasia debate might interpret to their own ends.
Given its slow and somewhat repetitive start, Honey is a film viewers need to “stick
with,” but it is worth the early investment. It is a work of unusual emotional
intelligence that resists the siren temptation to play favorites on such a
divisive issue. Recommended for those who appreciate intimate character studies,
Honey opens this Friday (3/7) in New
York at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
Labels: Italian Cinema, Valeria Golino