More than Honey ★★★½

In this feature-length documentary, co-writer (with Kerstin Hoppenhaus)/director Markus Imhoof searches for the cause or causes of colony collapse disorder among honeybees on a global scale and, in the process of doing so, takes the viewer on a journey into the world of bees and beekeeping. His conclusion, which is delivered rather unceremoniously in a sentence or two in the form of a voice-over, doesn’t register as being particularly surprising. Regardless of that, however, "More Than Honey" turns out to be an interesting, informative, and occasionally humbling film.

Imhoof and his team don’t rely on talking-heads interviews to the extent that one might think. Instead, the proceedings benefit from an effectively structured narrative. Aside from providing straightforward facts, the film alternately features traditional, natural beekeeping (exemplified by a devoted beekeeper in the Swiss Alps, where, by the way, it seems as if everyone involved in the trade is required to smoke) and money-driven, industrialized beekeeping (exemplified by an ambulating beekeeping company in the U.S.). Could the latter be at least partly responsible for the large number of disappearances of honeybees around the world?

There is a kind of unevenness in terms of how the movie looks. Some scenes of bees going about their business, mostly close-ups and often shown in slow motion and without narration, are genuinely fascinating to watch and attain an almost poetic quality. It must have been very challenging for the filmmakers, especially for cinematographers Attila Boa and Jörg Jeshel, to shoot those scenes, but all their hard work pays off really well by endowing "More Than Honey" with a number of memorable, beautifully cinematic shots. Standing in contrast to the aforementioned scenes, though, is the imagery of the rest of the film, which has more of a made-for-television look.

With its 95-minute running time, the documentary approaches the point at which I would have described it as being too long; approaches, but does not cross. My feeling is that the movie could have been trimmed a little without losing anything essential.

Before seeing "More Than Honey", I had a certain amount of respect for bees, their social behavior, and their work. When the end credits started rolling, that respect had grown and turned into admiration. I am sure that is one of the things Imhoof wants to accomplish with this film, so he would probably be pleased to know that it worked on me. Moreover, as I exited the auditorium after the screening, I had a slight craving for honey …