Made under the Franco regime, Victor Erice's astonishing 1973 feature debut is quite simply one of the most remarkable, influential and purely poignant films to emerge from the 1970's. A bona-fide classic of European cinema, the film brought Erice instant and widespread acclaim. An audacious critique of the disastrous legacy of the Spanish Civil War, The Spirit of the Beehive is set in a rural 1940's Spanish village haunted by betrayal and regret. Following a travelling cinema's screening of James Whale's Frankenstein, seven year-old Ana (the mesmerising Ana Torrent, later to grow into an international star of some standing) becomes fascinated with Boris Karloff's monster. Obsessed with meeting the initially gentle creation, she transfers her entrancement to tending a wounded army deserter. Atmospherically rendered by legendary Director of Photography Luis Cuadrado, it's impeccably performed by both Torrent and veteran actor Fernando Fernan Gomez in the role of her emotionally scarred, bee-keeping father. Existing in a highly evocative dreamlike state, it's a powerfully symbolic, richly allegorical tale that is as unique as it is beautiful.
Eerie and Atmospheric
- Spirit of the Beehive review by AK
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You rated this film: 4
I finally managed to watch this film twenty years after being told I should!
Its principal characters are two small girls, Isabel and Ana, and I have to say right at the beginning that they are wonderful. There is nothing remotely cutesy about them, and they are never for one second wooden or self-conscious. The youngest, in particular, has a still-centred naturalness that is a large part of the reason the film works.
Not a lot happens. The movie is an account of a few days in the girls' lives: They see - very significantly - the film "Frankenstein" in the local barn. They go to school. They play. They exchange secrets and theories under the bedclothes. They ignore - or do they? - the frosty relationship between their parents which means they are largely left to their own devices. They play tricks on each other. One of them has a strange, haunting adventure. It's giving nothing away to say, think of "Whistle Down the Wind"...
For me, despite the beautiful photography which brilliantly conveys different times of day and the hugeness of the space surrounding these two small girls, it was the sound that conjured up the atmosphere most effectively: The crackly film in the barn, the buzz of bees, the footsteps echoing through the melancholy, rambling mansion where the children live, the wind on the Sierra, the splash of a stone landing at the bottom of an old well, the children's voices, hushed and solemn, discussing the world in the dark...
There are points when a modern viewer might get impatient (which is why I rated the movie an honest 4 overall). The pace is not snappy. But that serves a purpose and the movie stays just on the right side of being over-indulgent. The adult cast too are excellent, particularly the childrens' father (very much older than he would be in a modern film!) whose sad withdrawal from the world into the sanctuary of nature and animals has rubbed off on little Ana.
The teacher who told me to see it twenty years ago was right!