DER Documentary

Bitter Honey

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by Robert Lemelson
color, 81 min, 2015
in Indonesian & Balinese
with English subtitles


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Bitter Honey presents an intimate and emotionally charged portrait of three polygamous families in Bali, Indonesia. Following these families over a seven year period, the film portrays the plight of Balinese co-wives, for whom marriage is frequently characterized by psychological manipulation, infidelity, domestic violence, and economic hardship.

Living in a society where men have authority in many domains, these women have little voice in steering or protesting the conditions of their domestic lives. Bitter Honey draws attention to their struggle, documents the work of those taking steps to better protect and empower them, and aims to trigger a wider conversation about contemporary polygamy and women's rights in Indonesia.

“An exposé and call for social reform in Bali, the film reveals no all-for-one camaraderie, and few creature comforts, for women in so-called honey marriages, which account for 10% of the Indonesian province's officially recorded households... For Westerners, Lemelson offers an eye-opening look behind Bali's profile as a tourist Shangri-la.” — Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times
“Lemelson makes these revelations more powerful by withholding judgment. Like a good scientist, he seeks understanding. He maintains distance and objectivity by having Indonesian scientists analyze the phenomenon, and then has these experts rather than himself interview the subjects. This does not diminish outrage at the physical violence, deception, and grotesquely unfair laws regarding property and human rights that are revealed, but does allow room to ponder how such evils are not just restricted to a tiny island, but spring from the universal blight of misogyny.” — Peter Keough, The Boston Globe
“Robert Lemelson's cleverly titled documentary, which follows three polygamous families in Bali over the course of seven years, doesn't belabor the latent subservience of these arrangements, nor does it need to - the women speaking about their marriages in a candid, conversational way say plenty.” — Michael Nordine, The Village Voice


Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Etnofilm, Croatia, 2015
Days of Ethnographic Film, Slovenia, 2015
Association for Asian Studies Film Expo, 2015
RAI International Ethnographic Film Festival, UK, 2015
Taiwanese International Ethnographic Film Festlval, 2015
Festival International du Film Ethnographique du Québec, Canada, 2015

Related Resources
Press Kit (PDF)
Filmmaker Site
Film Site

Related Films
Standing on the Edge of a Thorn
Trading Women



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