Italian-Greek actress Valeria Golino – perhaps most familiar to international audiences as Tom Cruise’s girlfriend in Rain Man – makes her directorial debut at the London Film Festival with Honey (Miele, 2013). Irene (Jasmine Trinca) lives a double life. To her father and her boyfriend she ‘s a university student, endlessly working on her thesis with a professor in Padua. However, she also has another mobile phone and another name – Miele or ‘honey’. She flies to the United States and then enters Mexico by bus. With her short punkish haircut she looks like Anne Parillaud from Luc Besson’s Nikita. Could she be a hitwoman?
It turns out that Irene/Miele has been helping terminally ill people end their lives, painlessly and with dignity. The topic of euthanasia has been a recurring one in Italy, with Marco Bellocchio’s Dormant Beauty (2012) covering the infamous Eluana Englaro case in which a woman in a coma for twenty years became the centre of a ‘right to die’ legal battle. Golino’s debut is a confused addition to the debate, full of equivocation. Irene, on the one hand, is a punkish, independent sort who enjoys swimming, sex, listening to the film’s soundtrack on her headphones and the thrill of her illegal activity. On the other hand, however, she’s a ministering angel with a fairly predictable psychological motivation lurking in her past.
Honey’s central narrative crisis is caused when Irene meets Grimaldi (Carlo Cecchi), a patient intent on ending his life but who – he later admits – doesn’t have a terminal illness. “The sick don’t have more rights than me”, he says, reasonably enough. However, this suicidal urge based on boredom and a general weariness with life is too much for Irene, who finds herself questioning her role in the face of Grimaldi’s inquisition.
Golino throws everything at Honey and the result is a stylish, but often overly-busy debut offering. Cecchi (as the suicidal misanthrope) gets all the best lines and delivers them with dry aplomb, but Trinca has too much to do with a character who ultimately feels like a wet version of the Millennium Trilogy’s Lisbeth Salander. The existence of this para-illegal service – Irene is helped by a nurse friend and recommended by doctors who are obviously conniving in their sidestepping of the law – makes for an interesting premise, but ultimately Golino (like her main character) seems to lose her nerve halfway through.
The 66th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 15-27 May, 2013. For more of our Cannes 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.