THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE
ART FILM OF THE WEEK
Images of children’s crayon drawings in the opening credits set the mood for a movie about youth and coming of age.
After a life-changing yet simple screening of James Whale’s immortal Frankenstein, the young Ana—living in a humble village on the outskirts of Franco’s Spain—sets off with her sister on a quest to find the real Frankenstein monster in her world. Meanwhile, Ana’s parents are middle-class; the father works as a bee collector on their pastoral estate that reminds one of a wide-spanning and vacant moon-like environment (all the more punctuated by Ana’s father wearing his “astronaut” suit when working with the bees).
The children appear to be unaffected by the ambivalence of those around them, by the torments of fascism, war, and extreme poverty. Embossed in a golden hue of beehive colors, the lingering photography of this film takes in a total realism hybridized with a formalist approach by director Victor Erice.
Long takes are mixed with a kind of experimentation in narrative and the philological tendencies of the film, as reality and the dream world further intermingle throughout. The children soon discover a large footprint, for example, giving way to the possibility of the monster’s actual existence. Particularly from the eyes of a child, the monster that is searched for is already embedded firmly in the collective conscience of the audience. Innocence is fragile and is, in the film, shattered into pieces by Erice. A large amount of the movie is in near silence with an occasional interlude by the haunting score. As a mushroom in the woods fades into a fireplace, symbolism is rife with experimental metaphor, relating an aesthetic contrast between the real little girl Ana and her illusory world.
Interestingly, the family is never shown altogether in a single frame, but rather split up in multiple shots. The film contains exactly 100 shots: 50 interior, 50 exterior. Ironically, though the cinematography of the film—that has gone on to influence countless other filmmakers—is breathtakingly innovative in both these formal and aesthetic ways, DP Luis Cuadrado began going blind during the film’s shooting; he killed himself out of remorse for his loss of vision seven years later.
Spirit is a film that will live on forever, into eternity, as will its own subtext on the magic of cinema to enrapture our innocence and verisimilitude, of the totality of cinema’s ability to produce dreams in children and, ultimately, us all.