Figures observed through frosted glass as they engage in semi-audible conversation: That mysterious tableau, which begins Valeria Golino’s film “Honey,” defines the detached sensibility of the title character. “Honey” (“miele” in Italian) is the code name for Irene, a fiercely free-spirited woman in the shadowy business of assisted suicide.
Portrayed by Jasmine Trinca, an athletic gamin with adorably crooked teeth, Irene is connected to a loose network of contacts who direct her to terminally ill clients. They pay her handsomely in cash for what she views as ethically high-minded missions of mercy to end their suffering.
Once a month, she flies from Italy to Mexico, via Los Angeles, to purchase over-the-counter barbiturates used by veterinarians. After following Irene on one of her forays to Mexico, the movie tracks her as she brings her lethal potions to desperate patients, whom she treats with the cool respect and compassion of a visiting nurse.
Irene conducts her personal life with the same chilly efficiency that she brings to her profession. But her composure is shaken to the core when she meets Carlo (Carlo Cecchi), a cynical architect in his 70s who is apparently in good health, despite a chain-smoking habit.
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After telling Irene he has had a good life, Carlo explains, in a blasé, almost teasing voice, why he wants to die.
“I’ve lost interest in everything,” he declares. “It’s all so boring and insignificant. This thing you do for money: Everybody should be able to do it.”
Disgusted and outraged by his words, Irene demands that he return the medication. But Carlo refuses.
As they carry on a dialogue that turns into an almost playful battle of wills, Carlo becomes the closest thing to a friend in Irene’s life. But that edgy relationship seriously undermines her belief in her work.
“Honey” never evolves into a thudding, issue-oriented debate about the right and wrong of euthanasia. The film shies from directly addressing anguished existential questions. It is finally a story about the puncturing of one young, headstrong woman’s personal belief system.