Home Video Hovel: More Than Honey, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
As Switzerland’s submission for the 2014 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, More Than Honey has a lot of buzz. Director Markus Imhoof, whose 1981 film The Boat is Full was nominated for an Academy Award, takes a look at the industry of harvesting honey around the world from China and Australia to the United States and Switzerland. The central mystery at hand is why bees around the world are dying and what can be done about it. Imhoof offers no easy answers, letting viewers observe various approaches to beekeeping in extreme close-ups rendered in spectacular high-definition that reveal every unsettling detail.
More Than Honey deftly sets up its stark approach to its subject in its opening sequence. An elderly Swiss beekeeper carries a ladder and an axe up a mountain. Taking a few puffs of his cigar, he sets down the ladder next to a tree. As he ascends, he reaches a beehive. Wearing casual clothes and no beekeeping suit, he swings the axe at the beehive, knocking it off the tree. The level of confidence of the beekeeper collecting the beehive with no safety precautions in place is astounding to watch. The simple bee collecting method in this scene contrasts greatly with later sequences focuses on industrial methods used in the United States that squish countless bees to gain access to their dripping honeycombs.
The high-definition cinematography captures the bees in sickness and in health. Some of the footage of bees dying from parasitic mites is an H.R. Giger fantasy come to life. Much scientific material is stripped down to its barest essence. The visuals educate the viewer more than the talking heads on display. The effect of industrialized beekeeping on the bees itself is nothing less than chilling. The bees get agitated being transported on semi trucks, so the drivers have to take very short breaks and travel very long distances. Entire hives fail to survive the trip due to infection. The hives that remain are pumped full of sugar water mixed with antibiotics to help them along; most of the bees wouldn’t be able to survive without it.
Thankfully, Imhoof does not end for a cynical note. This documentary features moments of humor and hope amidst the grim realities bees face. Every person interviewed has an interesting story to tell. A warm and inviting documentary about the insects behind a tasty toast topping, More Than Honey is one of the best documentaries of recent memory.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber offers audio tracks in German (narrated by Robert Hunger-Bühler) and English (narrated by John Hurt). There is a nice selection of bonus materials, including seven deleted scenes, two brief making-of programs, German and American trailers, and a lengthy interview with the director. The picture and sound quality are excellent.