Is Dying a Crime?: Honey

02/26/2014 4:00 AM |

Directed by Valeria Golino

“Honey” is a euthanasiast, which is to say that to make a living she helps people kill themselves when they no longer wish to fight an incurable or debilitating disease. The clandestine nature of her work necessitates a double life; residing outside Rome, she’s Irene, dating a married man and lying to her family about being a medical student. To those around her, the frequent trips she takes to Padua are for discussions with a thesis advisor; in actuality, she’s flying to Mexico to procure illegal barbiturates—canine painkillers to be precise—which facilitate the taking of life without leaving traces. The morality of her actions remain unquestioned until she learns that one of her “patients” is a quite healthy but incessantly bored older man who has no interest in life’s trivialities. She faces a quandary: is it wrong to help him? Or is his depression no less an illness than, say, terminal cancer? She attempts to convince the man, played by Carlo Cecchi, to rethink his position, and in the process forges an intimate relationship that produces unintended revelations.

First time director Valeria Golino is best known as an actor (Rain Man, Frida, The Indian Runner) but her debut behind the camera is no less entrancing than her performances in front of it. She has a keen eye for composition, often framing Honey in majestic static shots that help explicate the character’s motivations; she thinks she’s doing a service to her “clients,” and, watching Jasmine Trinca’s nuanced lead performance, it’s hard to argue that she isn’t. What stultifies both the film’s power and intrigue, though, is an over-determined script that needlessly spells out Honey’s thought process. Her unlikely friendship with Grimaldi needs little adornment to become a unique character study, but unfortunately Golino disallows viewers the privilege of this journey without a bit of hand-holding.

Opens March 7 at Lincoln Center