The Criterion Collection is proud to present Víctor Erice?s spellbinding The Spirit of the Beehive, widely regarded as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s. In a small Castilian village in 1940, directly following the co... more »untry?s devastating civil war, six-year-old Ana attends a traveling movie show of Frankenstein and becomes haunted by her memory of it. Produced as Franco?s long regime was nearing its end, The Spirit of the Beehive is both a bewitching portrait of a child?s inner life and an elusive, cloaked meditation of a nation trapped under tyranny?from one of cinema?s most mysterious auteurs.« less
"'Spirit Of The Beehive', which begins 'Once upon a time...', uses children's drawings in its opening credits, anticipating the film's key scenes, spaces and motifs. This alerts us to the child's-eye view the film will largely take, focusing on two young sisters in s small Spanish village, Segovia, in 1940. They live in a vast, decaying mansion with their parents (a solitary, obsessive beekeeper, and a mother dreaming of her exiled lover), and servants. When James Whale's 'Frankenstein' is shown in the village hall, the younger sister, Ana, is particularly haunted by the scene in which the monster plays with a little girl by the side of a lake, throwing floating daisies onto the water. Her sister tells her that the monster didn't die in the film, but that his spirit lurks around an nearby abandoned outhouse, beside a well in an arid plain. Spotting a large footstep in the area, Ana prepares herself to meet the spirit.Victor Erice's film, often conidered the greatest ever made in Spain, is at once ascetic and sensual. It is ascetic in its evocation of a depleted Spain, one year after the bloody trauma of the Civil War, a place heavy with silences and suppressed emotions, parched, peeling buildings surrounded by dusty streets and outlying areas as dully stagnant as this new way of life, former granduer a dessicated memory. The film is sensual in the way this world is seen, coloured and re-imagined by the two young heroines, especially intense, dark, bow-legged Ana. The house they live in, like the beehive their father tends (grilled like a honeycomb, glowing with an amber light), is a silent, claustrophobic, ill-lit mansion, stripped of its personal decor, the kind of haunted house pregnant with silent screasm we find in late Bergman (e.g. 'Cries and Whispers'). But while their exhausted, experience-reeling parents give up, the girls explore its mysteries like the innocent heroines of Gothic fiction or fairy tales. There is very little dialogue in the film, limited to the remnants of civilisation (school) or the elegiac confessions of letters and diaries - much of 'Spirit' is choreographed around brooding, pregnant, enigmatic rituals.In a film haunted by ghosts and the charred traces of a vanished way of life, even the characters, in their movements and silences, move around familiar spaces like phantoms. The two great unspoken voids of the film - the Civil War and Franco - are only indirectly alluded to, and yet they shape this world, they are the spirit of this beehive. A necessarily symbolic and allusive work (made under the Fascists, its strategies, allegories and even style recall Eastern European films made under similar totalitarian regimes), metaphors work in complex, shifting patterns, in once sense, connecting characters in unexpected ways (trains, watches, monsters etc.), they are a further grid constricting these dead characters. On another, they magic another reality, of spirits, ghosts, memories, shadows beyond the reach of a spirit-destroying regime that would burn all records of alternative possibilities and realities. Even if it achieved nothing else - and 'Spirit' is one of the most potent, quietly stunning and moving films in all cinema - then Erice's movie would be precious for rescuing 'Frankenstein' from camp, and restoring its austere beauty."
Somewhere in Castille about 1943.......
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 01/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The opening scenes present each character in their private world. Laura, the mother, is writing a letter to a lover who may or not be merely imagined. This is her fiction. Fernando attends his bees and in the privacy of his library meditates on the nature of existence using the beehive and the industrious workings of the bees within as a metaphor for civilization. The slightest change upsets the bees work...and being 1943 great changes have altered the fabric of life in Spain. We glimpse Fernando's state of mind by reading his accounts of the bees daily activity and for him lifes once rich rituals it is clear have now been reduced to pointlessness and sadness. For Laura these changes Spain has gone through have forever altered the way she sees life. She feels life can no longer be embraced and lived to the fullest as it once could.
The structure of society which would have given the parents some sense of purpose and significance has collapsed. And the way they sleepwalk through their lives leaves the children feeling like orphans. The only example they have of what life is is learned at school and in the movie theatre. The girls are particularly moved by a showing of the classic Frankenstein. For them this large melancholy figure seems strangely familiar. What they cannot fathom is why the friendly beast kills the little girl in the movie. The youngest girls mind will not be put to rest until she finds her answer. The movie's haunting scenes which veer between carefree innocence and haunting confrontation with stark reality are perfectly complimented by the Luis de Pablo soundtrack. One of the strangest most disturbing melodies is played by Laura herself. And throughout the film director Victor Erice's camera will on occasion come to rest on one of the mansion's paintings which depict man as a hopelessly lost creature among forces that are beyond his comprehension. The childrens imaginations are haunted by a world beyond their comprehension and so are the adult imaginations and so is the viewers. Victor Erice presents each life as a separate narrative and the narrative lines do not overlap. The films stark strategy emphasizes the lack of cohesion in Spanish life. Each character is lost within themselves. Poetic and stark and yet beautiful as the best Spanish poetry."
CINEMATIC POETRY WITH THE WRONG ASPECT RATIO
Bartolome Mesa Gil | Malaga, SPAIN | 10/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am Spanish and I do beleive this is one of the geatest films in the history of Spanish cinema. I won't repeat the reasons given by reviewers here and elsewhere. So I'll come to the point. I eagerly awaited the Criterion edition to give away my old DVD copy released in Spain by Manga films. After all Criterion has gained an oustanding reputation for the great care they take in their editions. Well, their transfer looks certainly better than the one in the Spanish release, everything bathed in a warm honey colour. A bit grainy at times, the grain may be present in the negative. But the aspect ratio looked wrong to me and when I compared it with my Spanish edition I realized the picture has been zoomed to fill as much as possible the widesreen, with unnecesary loss of picture information at the top and the bottom. I wonder why even Criterion is so afraid of having black bars at the left and right of the screen. It may seem a small point, but in a film like this one the whole frame should be respected. I can't imagine Erice approving this compromise. But even if he did, it was wrong. The framing looks much better in my old copy. Now I cannot give it away. And in my rating I must drop a star just for that. Shame."
A beautiful, moving cinematic masterpiece
Larry L. Looney | Austin, Texas USA | 10/03/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most recent additions to my film collection is Víctor Erice's Espíritu de la colmena (The spirit of the Beehive), made in 1973 in Spain. Franco's dictatorship was in its waning years - but the censorship the Generalissimo had fostered still remained in effect - many directors of the day had to fight to have their films shown. If they portrayed anything that had to do with the Spanish Civil War - especially showing the Resistance in a favorable light - they had to do it metaphorically. Some films were cut to ribbons by the censors, some were delayed almost indefinitely - and some never saw the light of day (or the dark of a cinema, if you like).
Erice's first feature is set in 1940, and shows a Spain still reeling from the pain of the civil war. Set in a small village on the Castilian plain, the film speaks volumes about both the physical and psychological damage done by the conflict. The village is seen to be quite run down - the family at the center of the story lives in relative comfort in a large old manor house, but it, too, is in a state of neglect and disrepair. While quite spacious compared to the homes of their neighbors, the rooms are shown to contain little furniture - and the one meal we see the family sharing, a breakfast, is a sparse one.
The members of the family seem to exist in their own isolated orbits - coming close to each other at times, but never really connecting. The two young sisters - Ana (Ana Torrent) and Isabel (Isabel Tellería) - share more of a bond than the parents have with each other, or with their children. The girls' father (portrayed by popular Spanish actor Fernando Fernán Gómez) is a beekeeper - the first time we see him in the film, he's tending the hives, dressed in his protective gear, looking a bit like a space explorer. Their mother (Teresa Gimpera) writes letters to an unnamed man - from the address seen on an envelope in one scene, a refugee from the fighting living in a camp in France. We never learn if he is a former lover, a relative, or just an old friend caught up in forces over which he has little control - but from the frequency of her letters to him, and the emotional depth of the words she writes (which we hear in a voice-over), it's obvious this is a person about whom she cares a great deal, and whose absence torments her.
The girls are the real focus of the story - especially the youngest, Ana. She appears to be around 6 years old - at that age when the fantasies of childhood are about to be pushed aside by the realities of life, a time of difficult transition for a child. She still accepts everything she sees as being real - fiction is an unknown concept to her. A travelling cinema comes to town, setting up in the town hall - it's clearly something that has happened before, and we see the children gather around the van, before the dust has even settled, clamoring to know what film will be shown.
On this occasion, it happens to be James Whale's 1931 classic version of Frankenstein. Ana and Isabel are among the children and adults who crowd into the makeshift theatre to see the film. Ana is captivated by the entire spectacle - and as I mentioned, she's at the age when everything she sees on the screen is as real to her as what she sees on the street everyday. Ana Torrent, the young actress who portrays Ana in the film, had never seen Frankenstein before - and in one of the most moving scenes I've ever witnessed in a film, we see her face in the dark, illuminated only by the light reflecting from the screen, as she reacts, honestly and openly, eyes wide in wonder, not acting, to the story before her. At one point, she leans over to her sister Isabel and asks, `Why did the monster kill the little girl? Why did they kill the monster?'
Isabel tells her later, as the girls lie in their beds, awaiting sleep, that `it's all make-believe - nothing in the movies is real'. Ana's not buying it. Still obsessed with the experience and story of the film, she later listens intently to a story Isabel tells her of a spirit that lives nearby, in an abandoned barn. Isabel warns Ana that the spirit will only appear when called by someone with a pure heart, who believes it is real. Ana returns to the barn several times, calling `It's me - Ana', to no avail. After a few visits, she arrives at the barn to find it occupied - a wounded freedom fighter, on the run from Franco's guard, has taken shelter there. When he awakens with a start, hearing a noise, he immediately draws his pistol - seeing that it's Ana, he relaxes. Ana is either determined that this man is the spirit she has been seeking, or simply decides to make him into the spirit, and befriends him - she offers him an apple, and later sneaks out of her house with her father's jacket, to keep the man warm at night, inadvertently neglecting to remove her father's pocket watch before handing it over to him.
Ana's vision of this man as her own manifestation of the spirit is shattered when he is caught by Franco's police and killed. Her father is called to the makeshift morgue - once again, using the town hall, returning to the scene of the film that affected Ana so much - to view the body. The police captain has found the pocket watch on the dead man, and has connected it to Ana's father - he's obviously been brought in for questioning, probably a common practice in a society under the shadow of Franco's paranoia. His assurances that he didn't know the man, or how his jacket and watch came to be in his possession, are evidently taken as truth, and he is allowed to take his property and go home. When he confronts Ana with the watch, simply by opening it at the breakfast table and allowing the chiming mechanism to sound, it's pretty apparent from her facial expression that she knows something about it. He later follows her to the barn - she doesn't know that the man has been captured and killed - and when her father attempts to talk with her there, she runs from him. Her failure to return home prompts a search party made up of villagers scouring the woods and countryside at night, carrying lanterns - a striking visual reminder of the scene in Whale's Frankenstein when the villagers searched for the monster carrying torches.
Ana is found sleeping in the ruins of an old castle, and brought home, obviously traumatized. As we see her sleeping in the room she shares with Isabel, we notice that Isabel's bed has been stripped of its linen - perhaps a sign that Isabel, being a couple of years older, is now in her own room, having `grown up' sufficiently in the eyes of her parents to warrant this `promotion'. Ana's experiences have left her changed - but how much is unclear. The border she has crossed - or is beginning to take the first steps in crossing, at least - is one that is not skipped over in the course of a day or two. It's something that takes years to accomplish. As the film ends, we see her poignantly calling out to her spirit once more, `It's me - Ana'.
The cinematography in this film is astonishingly beautiful - Luís Cuadrado worked miracles, not just in his camera angles and framing, but in capturing the honey-colored light that is so essential in conveying the feeling and atmosphere of this film. In the documentary The footprints of a spirit - one of the several fine extras included in Criterion's new DVD release of the film - director Víctor Erice and his co-screenwriter Angel Fernández Santos, speak of their original intended storyline, and how they wound up discarding the opening scenes - they said that once they started filming, they realized that the opening, looking back from the present to the time depicted in the body of the film, was a drag on the overall effect. It's an interesting look into the creative process.
As it turned out, the film is as close to perfect as cinema can get. Criterion has done a masterful job in restoring and packaging it for re-release. Since I've never had the opportunity to see this work in a theatre on the big screen, I have nothing with which to compare it - but I can say that this is one of the most beautifully filmed, moving cinematic creations I've ever experienced. "
David Michael Cohen | California | 12/24/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There is so much to recommend in "Spirit of the Beehive" that it is hard for a reviewer to know where to begin. As other reviewers have pointed out, the cinematography and the performance delivered by the lead actress are among the best ever filmed. I also enjoyed the musical score, which was largely delivered with a single woodwind, but its simplicity only enhanced its impact. Some viewers may find it difficult to watch in part because of its almost oppressive atmosphere and in part because little is overtly explained about the characters or their situation. The latter is because it is a portrayal of life under the rule of Franco, filmed in 1973 while Franco was still alive. The vaugeness helped keep the censors from blacklisting the film, but it looses none of its power despite its caution. In watching this film, one is drawn into the lonely plight of the main character, and its only through great effort that a viewer can keep from reaching out to hold her. Descriptions cannot do it justice, however. I can only recommned that you see it, and then only when you are in a mood where your mind can be open and your heart needs touching."