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The Spirit of the Beehive

May 27, 2012

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Director: Victor Erice
Actors: Ana Torrent, Isabel Tellería, Fernando Fernán Gómez

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Synopsis: In an isolated rural Spanish village in 1940, a young girl’s imagination is piqued by a travelling cinema showing Frankenstein. Thereafter, ominous things start occurring in the young girl’s life.

Review: The cinema of symbolism is what Spanish director Victor Erice espouses here through his elliptical narrative of strange happenings and a life seen through the eyes of a self-possessed young girl. What with the hugely important setting of 1940 (the year that Franco gained control of Spain), the appearance of a stricken young soldier, the use of the Frankenstein legend, and the own disaffected manners of the young girl’s family (her father sombrely tends to the eponymous beehives, her mother seems stuck in a loveless marriage, and her older sister has a devious edge), Erice clearly intended this as a discourse on the septic influence of Franco’s reign on Spanish civilian life.

It’s a beautifully crafted film with Erice using the starkness of the Castilian countryside to locate his morality tale, and some of the image-making and editing is at the highest pitch of cinematic craftsmanship. To my mind at least, the film is almost a little too clinical and in thrall to the profundity of its child’s eye thesis, but, considering the terms under which Erice was filming (Franco was still in power), it’s still a hugely important document. (May 2012)

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