In 1973, Spanish director Víctor Erice released a film called The Spirit of the Beehive. The film follows Ana, a six-year-old girl living in a Castilian village right after the end of the Spanish Civil War. After watching Frankenstein, Ana becomes fascinated by the character of Frankenstein’s monster and by death in general, particularly the scene where Frankenstein’s monster accidentally kills a little girl. Her fascination with the film ties closely to the lives of the other members of her family, from her father who spends his time writing about his bees, to her mother who writes to a former lover.
This film is particularly interesting because of the power of nostalgia. The film was made towards the end of the Franco years in Spain, signaling an end to the Fascist power that had ruled Spain for nearly forty years. Erice is looking back on his own childhood, taking feelings and memories of his life and using Ana to portray them. The film, shot mostly in warm colors from the fantastic cinematographer Luís Cuadrado (who went blind during the production of the film), echoes the feelings of nostalgia and the romanticism one feels when looking back at the past. The film even begins with childish drawings of images and scenes that will occur.
Ana is slowly becoming more aware of her world and spends the film trying to understand it. She doesn’t entirely understand the war that just ended, but she’s open to learning about the fantastic. Frankenstein, a school lesson on human anatomy, and the discovery of a poisonous mushroom begin to make her think about life and death. Her sister, Isabel, tries to make her believe in the fantastic, mostly to play with Ana’s gullible nature, but causing Ana to make most of the choices she makes in the film.
There’s a part in the film where Ana discovers an injured Republican soldier in an abandoned sheepfold. Ana was previously lead to believe that the sheephold was where Frankenstein’s monster, or rather the spirit that took the guise of Frankenstein’s monster, lived. What began as a prank by her sister became a strange meeting. Ana and the soldier have a quiet relationship; Ana brings him food and a coat, and he entertains her with sleight of hand. This part of the movie is fascinating because it blends the childhood fantasy (Ana’s spirit has finally appeared) with real world issues (he’s a fugitive). From Ana’s perspective, this is just evidence of something incredible. To the viewer, it’s a grim reminder of the world beyond the Castilian plains.
The film may come off as somewhat slow to some viewers, but it’s a very atmospheric piece. There’s a lot of warm colors everywhere and a real intimacy with the characters. The family in the film are never all in the same frame, but we get to see them all individually and learn about how they live and go about in their daily lives. The distance the characters show is reminiscent to how children do see their parents. The father is an older, wiser figure who stays in his study and imparts wisdom. The mother is a lot more emotional, but a little more distant from the others. Towards the end, we do finally get to see the family begin to get closer. The parents finally occupy the same space and show compassion towards each other, Isabel shows more concern for Ana, and Ana comes to accept her own identity and place in the world.
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