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The Spirit of the Beehive


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The Criterion Collection synopsis of the film:

Criterion is proud to present Víctor Erice’s spellbinding The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena), widely regarded as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s. In a small Castilian village in 1940, in the wake of the country’s devastating civil war, six-year-old Ana attends a traveling movie show of Frankenstein and becomes possessed by the memory of it. Produced as Franco’s long regime was nearing its end, The Spirit of the Beehive is a bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life and one of the most visually arresting movies ever made.

The movie Ana watches is James Whale's version of Frankenstein, which becomes a tantalizing symbol for, well, a lot of things, as do the beehives that Ana's father tends. Trying to pin down the nature of the symbols and a discrete meaning of the film, as this Criterion Current essay does, is certainly illuminating--I missed the whole civil war context of the film when I was watching--but I think it takes away from some of the mythic power of the film. As every child has, Ana experiences a number of things she's too young to understand, and by remaining silent on commentary and narrative explanations, The Spirit of the Beehive forces us to be as confused and bewildered by her world as Ana herself is.

The dreamy, languid style of the movie reminded me of Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, but where that focused on an unexplained (or unexplainable) communal event, The Spirit of the Beehive brings together a series of otherwise (mostly) explainable events into a haunting, even monstrous story seen through the eyes of a child. The Current essay even notes that the actress who played Ana continued to be affected by the movie long after it was finished.

The Spirit of the Beehive is apparently a fairly famous movie, but the first I heard of it was when it showed up on a Netflix recommendation list. It's a Watch Instantly title, by the way, which I think is unusual for Criterion films.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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I'm surprised I hadn't picked up on the fact that there wasn't already a thread on this as it is one of my favourite films.

I think it the best representation of a child's perspective I've encountered on film. Being a child, in this film, is to find the adult world around you fascinating and threatening in equal measures. It is also a meditation on film/storytelling as a mystical experience.

I love the scene where Ana and Isabel are in bed; Isabel has been lying awake thinking on Frankenstein, 'why did the girl have to die?' and awakes Ana who makes up an explanation in order to keep her younger sister quiet and maintain her dominant position as elder sibling. I have a still of Ana from that scene as my profile pic on myspace. I think this scene sums up my childhood cinematic experiences perfectly; younger Ana asks about the monster Frankenstein that has haunted her since the local screening of the film in the village hall: 'Is it a ghost?', older 'wiser' Isabela replies 'In the movies it's all fake.' Wonderful stuff.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSMlPiJLNZ0(sorry, no subtitles)

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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  • 1 year later...

Huh.

Well, looks like I'm chucking this one into a growing list of my "A&F Top 100 films that I have absolutely no clue how to understand, but still find incredibly haunting and memorable days later because I can't stop thinking about it and need to watch again" category.

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Huh.

Well, looks like I'm chucking this one into a growing list of my "A&F Top 100 films that I have absolutely no clue how to understand, but still find incredibly haunting and memorable days later because I can't stop thinking about it and need to watch again" category.

I thought that's how everyone felt about it.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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oooh! oooh! read my summary on the top 100 page. It's taken me several years and many many rewatchings to begin to feel confident enough to say what I think about this, and it still holds me in ways I can't begin to pin down.

Anyway, would be happy if people commented on my summary. It took some time to write, and I cut it down substantially so it is somewhat schizophrenic, but please, more discussion in this thread would make my day, week, month, even!

Edit: Very handy link to a&f blurb, written by yours truly

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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Well, Fran, you made me want to finish the film. I tried to watch it on my computer last year, and loved the first half hour but never got back to it. Perhaps I'll watch the whole film in March. Thanks for the blurb!

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Well, Fran, you made me want to finish the film. I tried to watch it on my computer last year, and loved the first half hour but never got back to it. Perhaps I'll watch the whole film in March. Thanks for the blurb!

Do not wait until March, especially with the EUFF coming up. This is a film that will shoot up your favorites list quickly. It is an engaging film that brings together the convulsive frustration of Lang's M and the soft subtleties of children's perspective on life ala Doillon's Ponette. However, this will probably ring inaccurate after you watch; further veiling the mystery of this amazing film.

Fran - beautiful reflection and write-up. I am glad it was you who took on the blurb.

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Well, Fran, you made me want to finish the film. I tried to watch it on my computer last year, and loved the first half hour but never got back to it. Perhaps I'll watch the whole film in March. Thanks for the blurb!

Do not wait until March, especially with the EUFF coming up. This is a film that will shoot up your favorites list quickly. It is an engaging film that brings together the convulsive frustration of Lang's M and the soft subtleties of children's perspective on life ala Doillon's Ponette. However, this will probably ring inaccurate after you watch; further veiling the mystery of this amazing film.

I am booked solid with films through the end of the month. I like your passion for it though. I'll try to make it early March, before EUFF.

the soft subtleties of children's perspective on life ala Doillon's Ponette.

Cria Cuervos (from the same era and starring the same actress as Beehive) covers similar themes, too.

I've always wanted to watch and blog both at the same time, ever since you began mentioning them last year.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Watch it when you can. I look forward to your thoughts here and over at Filmsweep.

When I watched Beehive I planned it as a double feature with Pan's Labyrinth[i/]. It was a satisfying pairing.

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Watch it when you can. I look forward to your thoughts here and over at Filmsweep.

When I watched Beehive I planned it as a double feature with Pan's Labyrinth. It was a satisfying pairing.

Or with Frankenstein, or is that too obvious to mention?

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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