REVIEW: DVD Release: The Beekeeper

Film: The Beekeeper
Release date: 7th June 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 122 mins
Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Nadia Mourouzi, Serge Reggiani
Genre: Drama
Studio: Artificial Eye
Format: DVD
Country: Greece/France/Italy

A Greek beekeeper begins his annual journey, moving his bees to the places where spring is beginning life anew. As he goes, he must deal with the pent up emotions and familial dilemmas within his own life.

The film opens in the house of Spyros, where the wedding of his daughter Maria is being celebrated. Spyros and his wife Anna appear disconnected from the festivities, and remain silent and awkward in each others’ presence. After the wedding photograph has been taken, Spyros wanders out of the house, whereupon he meets the successor to his current teaching post. When he returns to the house, we learn that he is not only saying goodbye to his daughter and his career, but also to his marriage. After Anna, Maria and Spyros’s son leave in a taxi, the protagonist is left alone within the bleak surroundings of a desolate Greek village.

As spring has begun, Spyros starts the journey which he takes every year to move his bees to a new climate of flowers and sunshine. When he gets in his van to pull out of a depot he finds a teenage girl sitting in the passenger seat. Unimpressed, Spyros agrees to give her a lift and let her out at the first opportunity. Having let her out and observed her poor hitch hiking techniques, he eventually agrees to feed the girl and take her with him on his journey.

The two part and meet several times, and the relationship between them is anything but ordinary. There is clearly a tension between the two, and the old man looks and acts awkward around his young and beautiful companion. After having spent some time coming in and out of each others’ company, Spyros’s emotions crescendo and cause him to commit a drastic act which seals their companionship and sets the wheels in motion towards an eerie and disturbing climax…

One of the first things the audience notices as the film gets under way is the bleakness of the setting. This is not Greece as we would imagine. The characters are surrounded by a world of pale, grey colours and scenes steeped in ambiguous twilight. Dusty roads, barren landscapes and dirt coloured buildings provide a backdrop which serves to destroy any preconceptions the viewer might have of sun kissed beaches and tourist destinations.

The characters themselves are also anything but ordinary. The things they say and do are completely beyond what would be deemed as normal human behaviour. Their actions and interactions with each other appear, at times, completely irrational, whilst emotions and moralities are dropped and changed without warning. This is particularly true for Spyros’s relationship with the girl, who remains unnamed. She is clearly attractive; so much so that it is obvious that the film’s desolate protagonist could not help but feel something for her. However, her behaviour is at times sweet and innocent, but at other times so erratic and essentially out of order that she manages to play with the audience’s emotions as much as she does Spyros’s.

In a sense, the film owes much in this respect to the works of Harold Pinter and Bertolt Brecht. In fact, The Beekeeper definitely has a theatrical aspect to it, as many of the scenes are captured in one single shot. Not only this, but characters exit and enter from these long, flowing scenes just as they would in a play. The Pinter-esque silences and abnormal behaviour are combined with this Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, through which the audience is constantly aware that the film is a piece of art, and not a depiction of reality. Often this does appear stretched, however, and many people who watch the film will be forgiven for thinking that, at times, it fails to perform on this level. The film’s events can appear nothing less than weird, without any sense of sub text or intellectual artistry.

The film is considered by many to be director Theodoros Angelopoulos’s masterpiece, however, and it is genuinely of little wonder why. The Beekeeper is at times humble, rustic and beautiful, but also dark, unforgiving and ominous. There are absolutely no certainties within the film’s plot, as characters come and go, often making brief but startling and memorable appearances. This also adds to the theatricality of the film’s aesthetic, as individual scenes appear sometimes like acts, but more often than not as concepts and stories within themselves. It is of little surprise then that one of the film’s pivotal scenes takes place in front of a projection screen in a cinema, as the audience spends the majority of time watching the film completely detached from its version reality.

The backdrop to all of this is, of course, Spyros’s bees, who are the only living things he appears to have any control over. In their boxes, which are often depicted as looking like tiny houses, they too attempt to stick within a social structure and hierarchy which, as the humans in the film indicate, is not always possible.

A vivid and unrelenting depiction of an everyday man whose desolation is mirrored by the rest of the film’s characters and the aesthetic of his surroundings. IT

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