Opens Fri., April 25 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 97 minutes.
She organizes the process, waits in the room, helps with the choice of mood-setting music. It’s a delicate business, and everything must be just so. Of course, she also brings the vial of poison, a drug meant for euthanizing dogs; this too is part of the service—though the drug is meant for human consumption. She is called Miele, Italian for “Honey,” and her job is to help clients commit suicide in settings of their own choosing.
Honey (played by Jasmine Trinca, from The Best of Youth) believes in her job, and she’s meticulous about it. As Honey begins, she appears fully in command of her duties, which include periodic travel to Tijuana to pick up the barbiturates needed. But the cracks are there: an affair with a married man; a tendency to lie to family and friends about her activities; and a new client (Carlo Cecchi) with a particularly challenging set of circumstances. In a way, it might have been more interesting if director Valeria Golino—adapting a novel by Mauro Covacich—had presented us with a heroine less damaged by the heavy responsibilities of her morbid work. Surely there are people associated with the world of assisted suicide with relatively balanced lives? But, all right, one understands the dramatic possibilities of Honey’s need to re-establish connections in her life, even if the arc here (the final sequence, especially) feels overly neat.
What is impressive is the sustained mood, and the way the beautiful locations pass by Honey as though she weren’t really registering them. Which she probably isn’t. Her various jobs are given the gravity they deserve; the terminally ill people she observes in their final moments are all distinct and vividly drawn. The repetition of these scenes makes the movie the straight-faced, non-farcical flip side of Harold and Maude ; here these suicidal people actually mean what they’re doing. And in Trinca, whose resemblance to actress/singer Jane Birkin goes all the way to her crooked front teeth, the film has a somber center: She’s a protagonist who still seems young, but with a weariness beyond her years.
Honey is the first feature directed by Golino, a well-traveled actress probably best known in the U.S. for Rain Man. Her attention to performance, music, and the clouded surfaces that recur in the film are indications of an intriguing sensibility—honey and hemlock mixed in equal doses.