Saturday, April 8, 2017
The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena)
The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena) is a 1973 Spanish drama film directed by Víctor Erice. The film was Erice's debut and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema.
Six-year-old Ana lives in the manor house in an isolated Spanish village on the Castilian plateau with her parents Fernando and Teresa and her older sister, Isabel. The year is 1940, and the civil war has just ended with the Francoist victory over the Republican forces. Her aging father spends most of his time absorbed in tending to and writing about his beehives; her much younger mother is caught up in daydreams about a distant lover, to whom she writes letters. The entire family is only ever seen together in a single shot towards the end of the movie, there is no discussion. Ana's closest companion is Isabel, who loves her but cannot resist playing on her little sister's gullibility.
At the beginning of the film, a mobile cinema brings Frankenstein to the village and the two sisters go to see it. Ana finds the film more interesting than frightening; particularly the scene where the monster plays benignly with a little girl, then accidentally kills her. She asks her sister, "Why did he kill the girl, and why did they kill him after that?" Isabel tells her that the monster didn't kill the girl and isn't really dead; she says that everything in films is fake. Isabel says the monster is like a spirit, and Ana can talk to him if she closes her eyes and calls him: "It's me, Ana."
At the end of the film, Ana recalls what Isabel said about calling the monster, and she stands alone by her bedroom window and closes her eyes.
The film is full of hidden meanings. The disintegration of the family's emotional life is symbolic of the emotional disintegration of the Spanish nation during the civil war.
The barren empty landscape around the sheepfold represents Spain's isolation during the beginning years of the Francoist regime.
The film was made in 1973, when the regime was not as severe as it had been at the beginning; however it was still not possible to be openly critical of the regime. By making films rich in symbolism and subtlety, a message could be embodied in a film that would be accepted or missed by the censor's office.