Review: HONEY, A Beautifully Nuanced Directorial Debut From Actress Valeria Golino
Having lost her mother to illness when she was young, Irene is somewhat of an idealist, believing that she's doing a good deed. With her cold facade, she hides her emotions remarkably well when carrying out her job -- using her work name Miele (Honey), she usually stays with the dying person, reminding them constantly that it's not too late to change their minds. To them, she is an angel of death. Withdrawn and secretive, she hides her profession from her aging father and her lover whom she has a half-hearted sexual relationship. Always hooked up to her music, she leads a rather detached, solitary, yet tranquil existence.
Everything changes when she is assigned by her underground associate to assist the death of Carlo Grimaldi (wonderful stage actor, Carlo Cecchi), a cranky old man who doesn't want her to be a witness of his death. This arrangement is highly unusual for Irene and rubs her the wrong way. It turns out that Grimaldi is perfectly healthy and this goes against her morals. She tries to dissuade him and give up the drug, but the old man doesn't budge. Checking on him to see whether he's still alive becomes an obsession for her. Grimaldi is taken aback and annoyed by her insistence at first, but becomes an unwitting confidant for her as the time passes. A tender relationship emerges from this odd pair.
Actor turned director Valeria Golino (Hot Shots, Respiro, Indian Runner) has a very delicate touch. She turns a rather heavy subject matter into a warm, life affirming film. She doesn't push on characters' back stories or guess their motivations. Honey is a subtle, beautifully nuanced film that respects the audience's intelligence.
Jasmine Trinca (The Son's Room, Best of Youth) is fantastic as a damaged woman reconnecting herself to the world around her through death. It's Cecchi's frowning face that brings back that bashful, million dollar smile from Trinca. With its soft, faded look (shot by Hungarian cinematographer Gergely Pohárnok), the film has many gorgeous, lyrical moments, especially with Irene alone, swimming in the ocean and listening to her music as she cycles through the streets. With its rhythmic, everyday-life pacing and beautiful performances by Trinca and Cecchi, Golino's directorial debut feature is a welcome addition to recent upsurge of Italian cinema.
Honey is the second film in the Cinema Made In Italy Series (following, now the Oscar winner, The Great Beauty), a program that gives major marketing and distribution support to 5 Italian films in the US created by the Instituto Luce-Cinecittà, the Italian Trade Commission and Emerging Pictures.
Honey opens exclusively on Friday, March 7, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC, New York City.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com