“Honey,” the assured feature directorial debut of Italian actress Valeria Golino, is more bittersweet than its name implies. As heavy as it is tender, this tale of a young woman who works in the assisted-suicide underground, helping terminally ill people die with dignity, satisfies even as it saddens.
Irene (Jasmine Trinca), who goes by the code name Honey, makes a living facilitating euthanasia. Her job — for which she is paid in envelopes stuffed with cash — entails providing lethal doses of veterinary barbiturates, obtained in Mexico, to the families and loved ones of the incurably sick. Irene doesn’t administer the fatal dose but does oversee the act, attending off to the side, like an anonymous, rubber-gloved angel of death.
Without leaving fingerprints, she’s there to make sure the deed goes smoothly and according to plan, down to vetting the handwritten statements of the dying that must be left behind in order to preclude criminal charges.
It’s a tough job, as one of her clients notes, using a more scatological term. Still, Irene believes, someone has to do it. In her down time, Irene is full of life, swimming in the ocean, partying with friends and sleeping with a couple of men. One of them (Libero de Rienzo) is Irene’s euthanasia “pimp,” hooking her up with clients. Another (Vinicio Marchioni) is married and doesn’t know what Irene does for a living.
Everything changes when Irene delivers a suicide kit to Carlo (Carlo Cecchi), an older man who wants to do the act himself, with no one present. Against her better judgment, Irene agrees, leaving the fatal cocktail — along with detailed instructions — with him.
She then finds out that he’s not sick, merely depressed. From that point on, the film radically shifts gears, following Irene’s efforts to save a life, not end one. The friendship that grows out of her initial anger at Carlo is one of the truest, most touching relationships I’ve seen on film.
“Honey” is not a political film. Loosely based on a 2009 novel by Mauro Covacich, it doesn’t argue the ethics of Irene’s occupation, one way or the other. Rather, it’s interested in the compromises that must be made by those who, like Irene, live so close to death’s door.
Perhaps, as the film suggests, we all do, except that some of us are more aware of it.
Trinca delivers a marvelously unfussy performance, rendering her complex character gradually, along with the effects of the opposing forces that tear at her. Short scenes with her widowed father (Massimiliano Iacolucci) and her two lovers can seem almost offhand at times, but they reveal telling aspects of Irene’s evolving personality.
Is the ending happy? Yes and no. Like death, it’s a downer, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.
R. At the West End Cinema. Contains mature thematic material, obscenity, nudity, sensuality and smoking. In Italian, English and Spanish with subtitles. 100 minutes.