Spirit of the Beehive El Espiritu de la Colmena
Spain (1973): Drama R16 cert
Producer Elias Querejeta
Director Victor Erice
Screenwriter Francisco J. Querejeta
based on an idea by Erice and Angel Fernandez Santos
Editor Pablo del Amo
Cinematographer Luis Cuadrado
Composer Luis de Pablo
Art design Adolfo Cofino

 

It is one of the quietest, most elliptical films I can remember seeing, beautifully shot in colour and with a remarkable musical score. It is a gentle drama that makes you search for meanings but never give you more than a clue about its question marks. It is authentically Spanish, yet somehow transcends national boundaries. One is reminded in its beauty of Goya, and in its delicacy and other-worldliness of Henry Jamsí Turn of the Screw. It is a bout childhood, about families, about Spain and about isolation. It is also, purely and simply about love. It is a film perhaps that one will never fully understand but also that one will never fully forget. I beg you to see it because I sincerely believe it to be a little masterpiece oc cinematic imagination, an almost magical evocation of what lies just beneath the surface of the commonplace in our lives.

-Derek Malcolm, The Guardian.

Spirit of the Beehive (1973), aka El Espiritu de la Colmena, Spain, directed by Victor Erice
Why aren't there more great movies about kids? Kid actors, for starters. This wonderfully insular movie about the power of imagination, a companion to Forbidden Games, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Night of the Hunter, presents dolefully radiant, poised Ana Torrent as a young girl who runs away from her village home in search of the Frankenstein monster after seeing the Boris Karloff movie for the first time. Torrent's resemblance to the little actress drowned by Karloff in the original only adds to the weirdness.

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Torrent is unforgettable as a lonely little village girl who sees Boris Karloff's FRANKENSTEIN in the town hall and becomes entranced by the monster. Her sister convinces her the monster is still alive, and she treks off into the countryside to find him.

Leonard Maltin Review: 3.5 stars out of 4

 

It is profoundly refreshing, then, to see a film like Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). A welcome reprieve from the standard cinematic offerings of blustery action, zany laffs and syrupy romance, Beehive demonstrates the formidable emotional power of understatement.

With a quiet, graceful aesthetic that compares favorably with the better works of Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni, Erice's film explores the spiritual coldness that blankets a small Spanish town and reveals the varied ways in which a handful of its citizens seek emotional sustenance. Erice's clever use of wide-angle exteriors -- which frequently dissolve to identical compositions taken minutes, sometimes hours later -- emphasizes how minimally the town changes over the course of time.

Most of the residents seem to have fled to lands of some promise or else been killed (the film is set just after the Spanish Civil War), leaving the small Castilian hamlet in the care of the aged and the very young. Those who remain exist in a state of suspended animation, somnambulistically trudging through life while awaiting death's inevitable intervention.

Beehive focuses on a single family and explores its means of coping with the overwhelming nothingness of life. Father (Fernando Fernan Gomez) is a vaguely defined intellectual who finds stimulation in his compound of bee colonies, waxing philosophic about their perpetual action ("the constant agitation on the honeycomb ... the varied and unceasing activity of the multitude ... the feverish and arduous comings and goings") as if to compensate for his own emotional lethargy. Mother (Teresa Gimpera) also lives in solitude, writing letters to the fading memory of a lost love.

Within this emotional wasteland, Erice discovers sparks of life in the two young daughters of the family, Isabel (Isabel Telleria) and the tiny, doe-eyed Ana (Ana Torrent), the emotional center of the film. After a village screening of Frankenstein, Ana discovers in Karloff's monster the companion she longs for -- father, protector, friend, wounded outcast, as well as an embodiment of death ... a topic which quietly haunts the village and especially fascinates the soft-spoken six-year-old. Fueled by the embellishments of Isabel (who tells her the creature lives in a nearby abandoned barn and will respond to the call of his friends), Ana at last finds something in which to invest her flowering fears and desires.

Torrent is wondrously engaging as the death-obsessed Ana, conveying innocence and childhood wonder without the cloying precociousness of a Macaulay Culkin or one of Spielberg's gooey-eyed imps. The tendency to paint children as loud-mouthed, miniature grown-ups -- battling criminals and harboring extraterrestrials -- divulges a certain incognizance of what childhood really means, borne of apprehension or indifference.

A worthy successor to Rene Clement's Forbidden Games and David Lynch's The Grandmother, Beehive is one of those rare films that not only acknowledges that children have brains and souls, but observes their thoughts and feelings with heartfelt interest, holding their quiet curious gazes even when their quests for meaning in life tend toward the macabre.

Spirit of the Beehive

BY BRET WOOD Creative Loafing | Published May 4, 1996