The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
August 3, 2015 8:00 AM - Subscribe

A sensitive seven-year-old girl living in 1940 in a small Spanish village drifts into her own fantasy world after viewing "Frankenstein." Available to watch commercial-free for Hulu subscribers here, and to rent from iTunes here.

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posted by Ian A.T. (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Saw this earlier in the year and was entranced. It's easily in the top ten of the most visually beautiful films that I've seen.
posted by octothorpe at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2015

This is probably my most favorite movie, which just sounds dumb considering how amazing it is. This is a work of art that I feel honored to have had the opportunity to watch.

I'd love to understand more context about the filmmaker, when and where it was made, etc. On a purely aesthetic level it was breathtaking and, as you say octothorpe, entrancing. But meaning-wise, I don't have much beyond, "Spanish Civil War/Franco/...?"

I'm struck that the lead was a little girl instead of a boy. I'm struck by the Frankenstein image. And the bees.

Anyone seen any of Erice's other films?
posted by latkes at 7:00 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a gorgeous movie and I love it and am glad we got to it.

I only have a couple of minutes right now, but I wanted to toss out a couple of really charming stories I've either read or heard about this movie:

Those reaction shots of the children watching Frankenstein were accomplished by showing the children Frankenstein. The wide-eyed wonderment is (the actor who played) Ana's genuine reaction to those scenes in the movie.

For a long time after filming, Erice would call the actor who played Ana to check up and see how she was doing and to make sure he hadn't traumatized her in filming the movie.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:26 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I caught this a while back on TCM. So beautiful. I guess the house where most of the film takes place is available as a vacation rental now, FYI.

I think the cinematographer actually was suffering from optical degeneration, and lost his sight entirely three years after this movie was released, making the photography all that much more impressive (and a loss for the craft).
posted by JauntyFedora at 11:30 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about the political climate from the film, either, or what the metaphors all really mean, but Frankenstein is presented to the people as a warning about progress gone out of control. Frankenstein's monster is supposed to be a terrifying portent of things to come, but rather than being afraid, Ana is intrigued and sympathetic, as she is with the injured soldier.

I am slightly offended by Ana's father's harsh perspective on the bees, because bees are fine the way they are, but he seems to be criticizing the mindless conformity and adherence to rules, such as those in Spain during Franco. And there is beehive imagery mirrored throughout the movie as well, like the panes of glass in the house, as though they're living in a beehive themselves.

So last night, inspired by latkes asking if anyone's seen any of his other movies, I watched El Sur, which is also on Hulu. It is really great as well, and it too is gorgeous and beautifully written. It also has a young girl as a protagonist, and as in Beehive, Erice's portrayals of girls and women are remarkably nuanced and human. It's weird that it's remarkable for women to be portrayed as complicated human characters, but there you have it. And unless I'm waaaay off in my perception of your tastes, latkes, I think you'll really like it.

Then, I was looking around a little this morning, and was trying to find another film Erice worked on called Ten Minutes Older. It's a compilation of ten minute shorts by prominent directors, in two sections, Trumpet and Cello. It looks like all the parts are available on YouTube, so I'm gonna watch those in a minute here, too.

But apparently, it was inspired by a ten minute short from 1978, also called Ten Minutes Older, by a Latvian director, Herz Frank, which consists of ten minutes of reaction shots of children watching something. (According to the comments, they're watching a puppet show.)

Here it is if you want to see it.

I actually have grownup stuff I am supposed to be doing, so of course I stayed up till 2AM watching movies and then got up and fell down some rabbit hole looking around for other movies. And it's all you guyses' fault.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:18 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Favorited times ten Ernie, I'm going to watch everything you just linked!
posted by latkes at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd like to go back and watch this back to back with Pan's Labyrinth which seems to borrow quite a bit from this film.
posted by octothorpe at 4:54 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

What a dreadful film... which I mean: I was full of dread while watching it. Thank god that, for the most part, that dread went unrealized. If anything truly dire had happened to little Ana I would have been a wreck.

I have a lot of thoughts about this film, so forgive me for reverting to bullet points:
  • Of course it's completely gorgeous, that goes without saying. But what really strikes me about the film is how real everything felt. Like, I feel like I've been to those sets and walked around, can describe what's in other rooms we never saw in the film...
  • There are too many great shots to mention them all, but I also have to call out one transition: when the father is viewing the body of the dead Republican, the movie screen from earlier is above his head. In the next scene, he's back home sitting in front of one of the honeycomb windows, and the glowing yellow window is the exact same size as the movie screen in the last shot.
  • Why would you make such a washed-out cover for such a ravishing film? Criterion covers are usually great, but this one is pretty disappointing.
  • I wonder if the original Ten Minutes Older (linked above) was inspired by Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous puppet-show picture.
  • From the Wikipedia entry: "Teresa writes to her past lover while she seems to stare out the window at the old house where Ana will find the republican soldier: 'Little but the walls remain of the house you once knew, I often wonder what became of everything we had there.' This supposes the house has a history for her, and implies the escaped republican soldier who will run straight to this now empty and crumbling house and hide in it may have been her lover." Wow, I didn't get that at all. Did anyone else? Do we even think there's merit to the theory?
  • Another neat fact from the Wikipedia entry: "The entire family is only ever seen together in a single shot towards the end of the movie, there is no discussion."
  • I wonder if this film has a presence in Japan? It felt very Ghibli-esque to me in its evocations of the mysteries of childhood, and I wonder if it was an influence.
  • The beginning, at least, also reminded me of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, the novel by Dodie Smith: a young girl, living in a large crumbling estate with her intellectual but muddled father... (Needless to say, the two don't quite go to the same places.)
  • I was surprised to find out that Ana went on to become a working actress, but I can't quite articulate why. Certainly not because of her performance! It just felt really natural in a way that I don't associate with a child actor, I guess.
  • I think, aside from the cinematography, the aspect of the film that impressed me the most was how complex the tone was: it was about a horror film, but it wasn't exactly a horror film itself; it certainly had its unsettling moments (and a yelling-at-Ana-to-not-eat-that-mushroom moment) and an air of unease, but there are no horrifying moments. Just like Ana meeting the monster by the lake, we react more with empathy and curiosity than fear.
  • I also really liked how opaque the film was, even though it could be frustrating at times trying to piece together what was going on. It felt natural, as for the most part we only learned things that Ana herself would have known. She doesn't know where her father goes when he gets dressed up and leaves early in the morning, for example, so neither do we.
  • Awkward question time: the doctor at the end tells the mother that Ana has been through a trauma, but she will recover. Should we assume that the trauma we're referring to is what we saw on the screen, or should be infer that there was an unseen event between her and the soldier. I feel like the latter is me looking at the film with 2015 eyes, but I was wondering if anyone else questioned that as well. I hope that's not what the movie is implying!
  • Erice's career is pretty interesting: he's only directed four films in four decades, but three of them are on TSPDT's list of 1000 Greatest Films Of All Time list. We should definitely do El Sur soon!
  • "This is a work of art that I feel honored to have had the opportunity to watch" is such a great way of putting it, latkes.

posted by Ian A.T. at 10:34 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Sorry I'm late getting to this one. Did you know that if you don't watch the movies, you'll never catch up? I worked that out for myself.

In any case, I love a movie shot warm like this one. The scene with the girls running down to the abandoned house might be one of my favorite shots ever.

When I was a kid, I was an official Georgia State Park Junior Ranger through Panola Mountain State Park. In the interpretive center there they had a glass beehive where you could watch the bees go about their beedom. I was reminiscing about all this when poor Ana was tricked by Isabel.

I feel like more than anything else, that's what set Ana off. We next see her just staring into the fire, then up at the moon. (Another beautiful shot. Poor Luis Cuadrado.) I don't believe Ana's trauma was anything other than seeing the fugitive's blood and thinking her father had something to do with it. Compounded with getting lost in the woods.

If I were going to suspect a man in this movie as one of Teresa's lovers, it'd be Don Miguel the doctor not the fugitive.

In any case, I enjoyed this one. Thanks.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:32 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I saw this last night. I came at this through watching Tesis, a kind of de Palma esque horror movie from 1996 -- starring Ana Torrent. At that time we looked through her career and were like, oh yes, Spirit of the Beehive, that's a famous one. A little while later we watched it.

I really felt like I was looking at the stamp that pressed a young lump of wax that became Guillermo del Toro.

It is a beautiful movie, with an understated elegance that feels wrong to sully with mere words of praise.

A small thing I liked was the progression of the trees... Seeing strange trees outside a balcony window becomes, wow those trees are just all up in that balcony's business aren't they, becomes LEAFY PORTAL.

"The spirit of the beehive" sounds like a fascist slogan all in itself, though the movie is seemingly talking about a more individual spirit.

Re: Ana's trauma. Ana is a little hurt by Isabel's game, I think, because it would make it seem as if the spirit is also a lie... and is jumping over the fire, too, just some frivolous pointless activity? How could you take all of this so lightly?!

And I'm not sure about the father's beehive speech, it seemed like the glass beehive was something like a death sentence for the bees, an unnatural and doomed beehive, created just for the gratification of people who want to see into it.

I did not catch onto the idea that the dead soldier was the mother's lover. It seems a little pat; I don't want to it be so. I want to keep the mystery and understatement. Resolutions don't have to match up with invocations.

When Don Miguel the doctor walked on screen I said, "Wow they got Francis Ford Coppola to be in this!"
posted by fleacircus at 7:04 PM on July 27, 2021

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