‘Honey’ a convincingly drawn story of a suicide assistant

She organizes the process, waits in the room, helps with the choice of mood-setting music. It’s a delicate business, and everything must be just so. Of course, she also brings the vial of poison, a drug meant for euthanizing dogs; this, too, is part of the service — though the drug is meant for human consumption.

She is called Miele, Italian for “Honey,” and her job is to help clients commit suicide in settings of their own choosing.

Honey (played by Jasmine Trinca, from “The Best of Youth” believes in her job, and she’s meticulous about it. As “Honey” begins, she appears fully in command of her duties, which include periodically traveling to Tijuana to pick up the barbiturates needed for the work.

But the cracks are there: an affair with a married man, a tendency to lie to family and friends about her activities, and a new client (Carlo Cecchi) with a particularly challenging set of circumstances.

In a way, it might have been interesting if director Valeria Golino — adapting a novel by Mauro Covacich — had presented us with a heroine less damaged by the heavy responsibilities of her morbid work. Surely there might be people associated with the world of assisted suicide who are relatively balanced in their lives? But all right, one understands the dramatic possibilities of Honey’s need to reestablish connections in her life, even if the arc here (the final sequence, especially) feels overly neat.

What is impressive is the sustained mood, and the way the beautiful locations pass by Honey as though she weren’t really registering them. Which she probably isn’t.

Her various jobs are given the gravity they deserve. The terminally ill people she observes in their final moments are all distinct and vividly drawn. The repetition of these scenes makes the movie the straight-faced, non-farcical flipside of “Harold and Maude”; here these suicidal people actually mean what they’re doing.

And in Jasmine Trinca, whose resemblance to actress-singer Jane Birkin goes all the way to her crooked front teeth, the film has a somber center; she’s a protagonist who still seems young but with a weariness beyond her years.

“Honey” is the first feature directed by Golino, a well-traveled actress probably best known in the U.S. for “Rain Man.” Her attention to performance, music, and the clouded surfaces that recur in the film are indications of an intriguing sensibility — honey and hemlock mixed in equal doses.

“Honey” (three stars)

Actress Valeria Golino’s first feature as a director looks at a solemn young woman (Jasmine Trinca) whose job it is to assist people in their suicides. The movie’s dramatic arc is overly neat, but this morbid world is convincingly drawn. In Italian, with English subtitles.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for nudity, subject matter.

Opening: Friday at Sundance Cinemas Seattle.

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