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'More Than Honey' lets us hang with bees

The documentary "More Than Honey," about the possibility of bees dying out, uses macrophotography to put us into the lives of the insects.

The documentary "More Than Honey" pushes its cameras into the world of bees Credit: Kino Lorber, Inc The documentary "More Than Honey" pushes its cameras into the world of bees
Credit: Kino Lorber, Inc

‘More Than Honey’
Director: Markus Imhoof
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

The news over the last few years that bees are dying off en masse sent shockwaves throughout the world. Pests that attack humans at the slightest provocation, they are nonetheless vital to our planet’s ecosystem, on top of creating one of its sweetest, healthiest treats. One of the interviewees in “More Than Honey,” a German documentary about bees and their epidemic, quotes Albert Einstein’s prediction that once bees completely die out, humans will only have four years left. That doomsday prophesizing is, however, thin on the ground in what is otherwise a calm, even strange film about how interesting bees are to watch — or at least how interesting its filmmakers think they are.

It’s little surprise, watching the film, to discover director Markus Imhoof hails from a long line of beekeepers. The film is divided between hang-out sessions with beekeepers from all over the world and spectacular, immersive shots of bees at work. These are shot with macro-lenses that make bees look bigger than life, just as in “Microcosmos” as well as in “The Hellstrom Chronicle,” a 1971 semi-documentary that jokingly claimed insects would take over the earth. Every now and then Imhoof takes things into the realm of CGI fantasy, but the shots of bees milling about hives and honeycomb are, if a bit same-y, hypnotic and beautiful.

Arguably even more arresting are the humans that tend to them. We see an old man, a beekeeping lifer, who doesn’t bother protecting his body underneath the usual beekeeper costume. While talking of manipulating his stock by messing with their queens, he calmly wrangles a scarily compliant bee to a table with his finger, then smashes its head.

There’s a faint Herzogian weirdness to the film and some of its human guests, who obsess over a subject that would interests few, but who nevertheless keep calm as they entertain the possibility that their livelihood could be in jeopardy. Imhoof keeps calm, too, even as the focus turns to the killer bee scare in the 1970s that inspired both a regular “Saturday Night Live” sketch and the unintentionally silly disaster film “The Swarm.” It’s the rare alarmist eco-film that tells viewers to chill out.

 
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