Review: The Return of the Honey Buzzard (2017)

The Return of the Honey Buzzard (2017)

Directed by: Stanley Kolk | 90 minutes | thriller | Actors: Benja Bruijning, Sanne Langelaar, Lykele Muus, Michel Sluysmans, Nino den Brave, Svenno van Kleij, Mandela Wee Wee, Samuel Bouma, Faye Bezemer, Shaquille Fernand, Juva Si Ahmed

Aimée de Jongh is a talented Dutch cartoonist. People who travel a lot by train will undoubtedly know her from her comic strip ‘Snippers’. With ‘The Return of the Honey Buzzard’ she released her first graphic novel (visual novel) in 2014, in which she incorporated strong themes such as suicide and bullying. The novel was very well received and earned de Jongh several accolades. Editor Stanley Kolk was so impressed by the literary strip that he wanted to make his directorial debut with it at all costs. The story outlines the impact bullying can have, also later in life. Kolk himself never experienced that up close. The basic story of De Jongh was supplemented by Kolk and screenwriter Philip Delmaar with a second angle, namely that of the bullies, for whom the events of their youth can also continue to haunt them in later life. ‘The Return of the Honey Buzzard’ is the first in a series of six new Telefilms that will be broadcast by the NPO in March and April.

Simon Antonisse (Benja Bruining) and his heavily pregnant wife Laura (Sanne Langelaar) own a dusty bookshop. Business isn’t going too well, but the dreamy Simon doesn’t give up on his passion, not even with a child on the way. He has been a bookworm for as long as he can remember. In fact, he prefers to read the books rather than sell them. He never wanted to share with Laura that a few things happened in his youth. But then he suddenly recognizes a customer in the store. Secretly he follows this man, until the railway crossing where he throws himself in front of the train. A shocking event that brings back the past that Simon had hidden so deeply. His thoughts take him back to his high school days. He spent a lot of time with Ralph (Samuel Bouma), who was fond of birds and could talk about them enthusiastically. Ralph, and to a lesser extent Simon himself, was the target of bullying. At one point he was so fed up that he wanted to act. An act that went completely wrong. After all these years, Simon still feels guilty about what happened. He withdraws between his books in his forest house and sees things that are not there. He confides in the teenage girl Floor (Faye Bezemer), who saved him from an accident and can use his help with her piece of literature. Meanwhile, Laura tries to save the ailing bookstore from destruction. She is offered help from Simon’s former classmate Vincent (Mandela Wee Wee), one of the bullies from the past who wants to show remorse. But Simon is absolutely not allowed to take his money…

Translating a comic strip novel drawn in moody black and white to the screen is no mean feat, but Stanley Kolk has succeeded very well. The black and white was apparently exchanged effortlessly for a bright and warm color palette. The story is of course hyper-realistic for a comic, which makes the transition to film easier. However, Kolk does give some subtle hints to the comic’s background, including in the characters’ clothing. There is also a lot of symbolism: the old books that Simon surrounds himself with represent the past that he has still not been able to let go of, the longing for nostalgia and melancholy. Books have a comforting effect for him; when he finds himself in a bind, he huddles between the books. The symbolism of the honey buzzard, a bird of prey that starts a new life if its partner does not return, is ultimately the most powerful message: you can leave the past behind, because you always have the option to start over.

The structure of the story is built in such a way that you have to keep looking at the fork, as the events of the past are revealed bit by bit. We are surprised with some unexpected twists and a supernatural touch. Although the role of the girl Floor, who becomes so close to Simon that it becomes uncomfortable and is reminiscent of ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov, can be guessed by the attentive viewer. The acting is quite fine. Sanne Langelaar in particular looks good. Also technically there is little to criticize about the film, although ‘The Return of the Honey Buzzard’ could have been edited more efficiently – which is remarkable since director Stanley Kolk mainly works as an editor. Now, unfortunately, the tension is subsiding a bit here and there.

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