“Keeping the Bees” is a Turkish drama set in the little-filmed northeastern region of the country, in the southern edges of the Caucasus Mountains.
It’s a downbeat parable about a local woman (Meryem Uzerli) who comes home from Germany, where she lives and was educated, only to find herself trapped in a place where she no longer fits in.
The trap? Her dying mother (Sennur Nogaylar) has but one wish.
“Take good care of my bees.” Mom lives just long enough for Ayse to complain that is “my biggest fear,” something she never got over growing up there. “I can’t do it,” she declares, in Turkish with English subtitles.
But what’s a daughter to do? Mom dies and Asye is on the phone, barking in German, trying to tidy up affairs there before settling into bee keeping duty in the Motherland.
“I can overcome my fear,” she assures one and all.
She’s got Mom’s loyal assistant Ahmet (Hakan Karsak) to help teach her the inscrutable ways and peculiarities of “Caucasian bees.” The fact that it’s a wet year means there’s no honey money coming. But college gal from the Big German City has her internet. None of your superstitions, thank you very much. She finds a Buckfast variety of bee “that can see in the rain.”
“English bees,” Ahmet sniffs. That’ll never work.
She wants to paint the hives pretty colors for her webpage advertising.
“Caucasian bees” are finicky about that, he warns.
As she’s dealing with Ahmet’s backtalk and facing the resentment of her stuck-in-Turkey-for-life sister Mine (Burcu Salihoglu), the weather improves and her plans start to show promise. And then a Caucasian Brown bear shows up and Ayse’s life and this whole world is tossed about.
The endangered bears are “untouchable” here, the wildlife cop Ilker (Feyyaz Duman) warns.
But plainly, these late night wreck-every-hive raids are not part of Ayse’s business plan. We can see how pissed she’s getting, no matter how charming the hunky Ilker is. Something’s got to give.
Writer-director Eylem Kaftan has a little fun with Ayse’s phobia, letting her flip-out when a bee gets in her bee suit. And there are comic possibilities at how angry she gets at this bear, which the wildlife folks have named “Chestnut” and have an affection for.
But Kaftan takes things into the realm of magical realism, as Ayse dreams about her phobias, her mother’s possible connection to the bear, or the curse that Ayse herself might have brought down on them all by taking over her mother’s hives and disrespecting the bees.
“She shows up, so does the bear,” Ahmet gripes.
The film’s attempts at lightness fall by the wayside as Ayse deals with the guilt of doing the unspeakable to the “untouchable” Chestnut, and bad karma blows her way.
But “Keeping the Bees” is still a lovely film, with a kind of Caucasus folk serenity about it. It’s not “Honeyland” gorgeous and bee-centric. But the scenery is striking and Uzerli, a staple of German TV, makes a fascinating if not entirely sympathetic and amusing “fish out of water” in this world of Caucasus mountains, bees, bears and people.
MPA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Meryem Uzerli, Feyyaz Duman, Hakan Karsak, Burcu Salihoglu, Sennur Nogaylar
Credits: Scripted and directed by Eylem Kaftan. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:33