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Classic of Spanish Cinema,
This review is from: The Spirit of The Beehive [DVD] (DVD)
"Spirit of the Beehive" begins with 'once upon a time', an epithet which, while it translates us into a world of children, simultaneously opens our eyes to the contrasting vision of fairytale and the reality of the adult world.
Set in a Castilian village in 1940, the Second World War has already engulfed Europe. Spain has just emerged from its Civil War, Franco is hunting down Republican sympathisers, and there is still a prospect that he will enter the war on the side of Hitler. This seems a bleak, unwelcoming place, but down the road comes a lorry ... a lorry bringing an evening of cinema to the villagers. Tonight it will be 'Frankenstein', projected onto a whitewashed wall while the audience bring their own chairs and cushions and settle in hushed expectation.
Director Victor Erice captures the wonder of cinema and its electrification of the imagination. His tale follows the lives of two sisters - Ana and Isabel - who become engrossed in the film. Young Ana, in particular, becomes obsessed with the notion that she can communicate with the monster and goes in search of him. She will, instead, find an escaped Republican prisoner hiding in a barn - she brings him food and clothing (echoes, here, of 'Whistle Down the Wind', or even 'Great Expectations').
It's a tale of growth, discovery and wonderment as Ana recognises her identity and the power of her own mind to shape her own world. Erice's characters make sense of the world around them, and are often highly introspective in character. Ana talks with her sister, but rarely communicates with anyone else. Her father studies bees, shutting himself off from the political world - he seems unable to communicate with people. And her mother writes letters to a former lover, banished to France after the Civil War.
The characters are all, in their own way, self-contained, seeking their own definitions of their world and of themselves, but expressive of the loss of identity and role which Franco's triumph created, and the isolation Spain would experience after the defeat of Hitler - shunned by much of Europe. Erice's film is not overtly political - Franco was still in power when it was made - but it nevertheless offers a commentary on the experience of dictatorship.
It's a visually stunning piece of filmmaking. Though the setting is bleak and lacking in any sort of glamour, Erice captures the dreamlike, fantasy quality of childhood. Ana Torrent delivers a mesmerising performance as the young Ana, beautifully portraying the essence of childhood innocence and imagination.
Regarded as a masterpiece of the Spanish cinema, "The Spirit of the Beehive" is a visual poem which seduces and holds your attention. It is a delight to watch.