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Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

by on 2010/11/29

When I was a little girl I used to worship a tree behind my house.  It was the largest tree my sister and I had ever found, nearly four tiny-girl-hands wide, in our woods filled with stunted Northern poplar trees. I was convinced that the pock-marked tree had God in it and could hear my prayers.

One day, my father, .22 rifle in hand, tried to use my tree as target practice.  My sister and I launched an impassioned religious protest, throwing our arms around the holy tree, refusing to let go. I’m certain our screams could be heard several farms over.

Spirit of the Beehive, directed by Víctor Erice, is a story of two sisters in an isolated Castilian village, after the Spanish civil war. Ana, 7 and her older sister Isabel live with her father Fernando and mother Teresa.

The village streets seem empty. The family home is unnervingly quiet. Teresa scratches secret letters to a lost love. Fernando sits alone in his study, contemplating a beehive. Silence and stillness seem to devour these moments of fractured family life.

Without a word being uttered, the viewer knows that all is not well in this home and village.

Ana and Isabel watch a screening of Frankenstein (1931).  Sensitive Ana is confused and fascinated by what she sees. She asks her sister Isabel to explain why Frankenstein kills a little girl and why the village mob then kills the monster.

Isabel soberly tells Ana that Frankenstein isn’t really dead. Moreover, his ghost lives in a deserted sheep shed outside the village. Ana, her eyes as big as blue dinner plates, drinks in every word. Ah, older siblings.

From this moment and for the remainder of the story, Ana is overtaken by the thought of Frankenstein’s ghost, returning again and again to the rough stone building for evidence of his presence. She finds an enormous footprint and then one day, she finds a wounded republican solider.

Convinced the solider is her long-awaited Frankenstein, Ana brings him food and her father’s clothing. No words are exchanged. There’s an exquisite sweetness in this little girl’s face when she offers the solider an apple from her lunch bag. For Ana, this friendship is the deepest and most profound reality of her young life.

One night, Franco’s army discovers the solider and executes him. Ana returns to her Frankenstein to find blood on the stones of his resting place.

Ponderous, lingering shots of village and domestic life dominate all 99 minutes of this mesmerizing film. Like my God tree, Ana’s Frankenstein was the centre of her magical world. Erice has created a film that is the pure, distilled dreamy, other-worldly inner life of a child.

* * * *

PG for disturbing scenes

99 minutes

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