Whether she's trysting with her married lover or helping other people die, the title character of "Honey" is a fascinating and complex figure, and
The Italian film — the assured feature-directing debut by actress Valeria Golino, still best known to American audiences for
The nuanced character study concerns Irene, a tomboyish beauty and medical school dropout who lives alone in a beach town near Rome. Adopting the name Honey for her illegal work and using barbiturates she buys in Tijuana, she provides assisted suicide services to the terminally ill. Calm and systematic, she takes control of each emotionally charged session, providing precise instructions along with the necessary ingredients.
She has the procedure down pat and her life neatly compartmentalized. But it's clear that beneath the compassion and steeliness of her watchful silence is a personal anguish. Golino heightens the sense of separation with the visual motif of glass — opaque, transparent or reflecting.
The protective shell cracks when a would-be client turns out to be suffering not from a physical disease but from despair. It's not the kind of pain Irene set out to relieve. "Is there a list of acceptable reasons?" Grimaldi (Carlo Cecchi), an accomplished man in his 60s, counters.
As he provokes Irene, they open up to each other, the two actors communicating a profound chemistry as people who have been keeping a good deal of life at a remove. However schematic their connection or clearly foreshadowed the film's final moment, the quiet revelations of loss and hope deepen every moment.
"Honey." No MPAA rating. Italian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.