The Spirit of the Beehive

"Essential"

The Spirit of the Beehive Review


Frankenstein's monster holds a peculiar place in pop culture. Old bolt head, perhaps because of his British invention, remains the grimmest of screen ogres. When you think of the revisionist fiend trinity - vampire, wolfman, Frankenstein - the green guy, who's really just a patchwork of dead people brought to life by a stroke of lightening (and genius), is the one who just feels heartbroken. Maybe it's because vampires (today) are so sleek and sophisticated. They scream Paris. They drip haute couture. Wolfmen are the beastly Eastern bloc grunts. The workers. They howl for whiskey. It's Frankenstein, forever embodied with Boris Karloff's face, which oozes despair. He's the monster who never really wanted to be a monster. The one who kills not for food, not for revenge, but simply because he cannot understand life.

The children who chase down Frankenstein's monster (the James Whale incarnation) in Victor Erice's 1973 film, The Spirit of the Beehive, aren't really after a flesh and black-blood beast. They're chasing down death. Like most children they're not only terrified but also fascinated with shadows. Like all children who cannot conceive of the finality of death, they are fascinated by death.

Its 1940, the Spanish Civil War has just come to a bloody conclusion, and a traveling film projectionist brings Whale's 1931 Frankenstein to a small Castilian village. Ana (Ana Torrent) and her older sister Isabel (Isabel Tellería) are enraptured by the film. Ana is haunted by the monster's sad encounter with the little girl that he throws into the lake (expunged from prints circulated at the time) and when she asks Isabel about the monster, her big sister informs her that Frankenstein's monster is a spirit. A spirit that lives in the abandoned outhouse on the outskirts of the village.

The Spirit in the Beehive is, however, not a film about monsters. Boris Karloff's grimace does not herald the coming of a brute beast, but is merely the black novelty of death. Ana and Isabel, in their own childlike ways, are merely discovering what we all eventually learn: What their parents, distant and traumatized, struggle to understand.

Ana Torrent (age five here) gives an incredibly honest performance, something rare among child performers. She's a stoic, cracking only one smile in the entire film. It's as though the weight of understanding loss rests entirely upon her shoulders. Her grim fascination is ours. Despite the melancholic theme of eventuality, the film is flooded with light. Not just the light of cinema but the beauty of the natural world: the amber plains that surround the village, the dusty blue sky, the hot sun. Cinematographer Luis Cuadrado, beginning his descent into blindness at the time, saturates the film in a gauzy mid-summer light, the images - each and every frame - a postcard from a wondrously quiet and peaceful place. (Cuadrado, robbed of the sight he so cherished, committed suicide in 1980.)

Long regarded as one of the best Spanish films of the '70s (you'd be surprised how many competitors there are), Spirit of the Beehive is a graceful and sublime film. Wispy, nearly silent, poetic in its approach to narrative, this is a poignant study of innocence and beauty, of death and rebirth. It's filmmaking art of the highest caliber.

The Criterion DVD includes a documentary featuring Erice, plus new and old interviews, all packaged in a handsome two-disc set.

Aka El Espíritu de la colmena.



The Spirit of the Beehive

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 5th January 1977

Distributed by: Janus Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 19

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Victor Erice

Producer: Elias Querejeta

Starring: as Fernando, Teresa Gimpera as Teresa, Ana Torrent as Ana, Isabel Tellería as Isabel, Laly Soldevila as Doña Lucía, Miguel Picazo as Médico, José Villasante as Frankenstein, Juan Margallo as Fugitivo

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.