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[DVDVRMC] SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (Erice, 1974)


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I guess first off I'd like to say that if you hadn't seen this before, I hope you enjoyed it. I tried to pick something that I liked quite a bit, but also something that I didn't think had been seen by a large percentage of the group. Secondly, I'd like to apologize in advance; I'm not exactly Jae or Jingus and I don't really have the film vocabulary necessary to discuss this film at the level it probably deserves. 

 

Spirit of the Beehive is considered by many the best (or at least most artistic) Spanish film of the 70s. Prior to this, most Spanish cinema was broad and comedic, which certainly makes a stark contrast for this film. I fully admit that this film can be perceived as slow. I think I probably enjoy enjoy films with a more leisurely pace and with smaller beats and moments than the average drama. 

 

While I don't think that it tells the whole story, I think it is really important to look at the film through the lens of a war film. It takes place at the tail end of the Spanish Civil War, and every character that we meet is clearly effected in some way. The adults muddle through life, clearly suffering deeply and psychologically. We get the impression that a marriage is strained, we get the impression that the people in this village, despite their civilian status, have all paid a price and still cannot fathom the depth of it. The father encapsulates this better than anyone. He still muddles through his routine, but it's clear from everything he does that his mind is elsewhere. 

 

I think this informs the actions of the children in the film. The children obviously feel that something is wrong, but remained blissfully unfettered. They still play games, they still have childhood fantasies. They are incapable of taking on the same profound sadness and guilt as an adult, but they still feel it through the change in relationship with their parents and they still must find ways to cope. The older daughter Isabel clearly feels the urge to become an adult, but also is still in a childlike phase of testing power boundaries and playing games. Ana, the younger daughter, can only run away and retreat. The adults remain powerless to stop her and can only react. 

 

From a filmmaking standpoint, two things have always stood out to me about the piece. First, it is very rare in the film that any of the family members are shown in the same frame. you can probably count the number of times on one hand, which gives the viewer a really overt sense of how isolated these people feel, despite the outward appearances of the closeness of the family. Second, I always find myself in awe of how sparse and pure the narrative is. I think that Erice does a wonderful job of just telling a story and shooting it beautifully and not placing his signature on moments. Many times when I watch this film, I think about how different the piece would be if different directors took a crack at it, even though the film itself could stay the same. I don't think I'm articulating what I mean very well, but I feel like we could have a Wes Anderson version of this film that would be the same piece almost shot for shot, but a tremendously different film. Same for a Jane Campion version, or even Kubrick or Speilberg. I don't know if these versions would be better or worse, but I feel like if we watched them, the immersive and adaptive quality that the film has might be lost, and it would simply a become a story trapped in a specific space and time, and not a work that one can find pieces of themselves inside.

 

I think I often imagine other directors working on the piece, because I think some of the thematic elements remind me of recently lauded films. I think Pan's Labyrinth owes a significant debt of gratitude towards the piece. I also think that Spirit of the Beehive shares a tone with films like Hugo or Super 8 that are modern love notes to the transformative power of cinema (notably also told through the eyes of children). I guess the major tonal difference between all of these pieces is that while you could classify Spirit of the Beehive in a magical realism realm, I think it works best when we think about the work as a filmed memory play, almost like a Spanish Tennessee Williams.

 

The final thing I want to touch upon is how close each character skirts with death. Through letter writing, the daily cycles of the beehive, or any number of other moments, each character finds themselves face to face (or at least side by side) with the idea of death or even the threat of it. I think it is used masterfully, never pushing the action to heavily, but adding a much needed tension for the audience that forces us to not only confront the fact that we don't know where the narrative is going, but also our own past and the times we have probably had these seemingly insignificant moments that could have become much more traumatic, damaging, or even fatal. 

 

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed it, or at least were exposed to something you wouldn't have been normally!

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Watched this last night and it really is a beautifully shot film. Some of those compositions feel so very....spanish. 

 

I love that the governement was using Franekenstein as propaganda to explain why they had to kill Socialists, and the little girl couldn't figure out why the characters killed each other. It's such a powerful and ingenious analogy. 

 

I can't stop thinking of those honeycomb windows. There's so much symbolism that I really feel like I need to learn more about Spanish history to appreciate all of it. I got the beehive concept, but looking at wiki there's even more context that I need to understand. 

 

I LOVE that about watching films. Sometimes you see one that forces you to udnerstand a little bit more about the world around you. Thanks for picking this one. My wife and I really enjoyed it.

 

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  • 1 month later...

You can really see the influence of this movie on Del Toro, especially PAN'S LABYRINTH. The idea of seeing a terrible point in history through the eyes of a child is used, there, too, as is the lens of unreality, though obviously with BEEHIVE it's much less pronounced. The scene with the monster in the real world is really memorable--I wish I had something more to say about it. I'm just so captivated by how the film shows the little girl finding such beauty in something that is supposed to elicit fear. The lead actress is amazing, and I was surprised to see that she wasn't in more. 

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I'm glad you liked it! The woman who played the younger daughter has long claimed that her experience on this film haunted and traumatized her and effected her acting career, although by most metrics I would say she has been pretty successful. 

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  • 4 months later...

I was getting ready to drop Hulu last week, figuring it was redundant since I prefer Netflix, when I stumbled upon the Criterion network. So much for that plan. After watching about half a dozen films for the first time, I saw The Spirit of the Beehive and remembered it had been selected for the movie club. Just finished it about an hour ago. It is really a beautiful film. I echo many of the thoughts already expressed here.  Erice clearly had a lot to say, but he certainly doesn't beat you over the head with it. I love how he begins to show you very early on that, whatever the age difference of the two sisters is, the difference in their awareness of the world they live in is vast. Ana understands too little and Isabel far too much. 

 

I wonder how many American filmmakers of the same time period, with our open society, would have been as daring as Erice with the scene where Isabel applies her own blood to her lips like make-up to, in effect, become a woman. I also wonder if he was at all influenced by The Curse of the Cat People.  I don't feel anything like magical realism though. The only time we drift into that area is after it is implied that she ate a poisoned mushroom and may be hallucinating. However the last shot, where she is framed by the window showing the misty world of her imagination outside while facing towards the bare and vast solidity of her house, is unbelievably haunting. Amazing film. I will revisit it time and again and will probably read a bit about the Franco regime to hopefully enhance my already deep admiration of this film.

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