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THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE
1973 - Victor Erice
Spain
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Opening Shot

Alongside the opening titles we see kids drawings of different objects (which will be seen throughout the film). The last drawing is a projection screen with a film image and the title card "Once upon a time" appears as the camera pans toward the drawing. It cuts to a road where a truck is driving by and the title cards continue "… somewhere on the Castilla plain in about 1940" (in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War). We then see a group of young kids outside a building cheering "The movie is coming. The movie is coming. The movie is coming."

The Film

The Spirit of the Beehive is a film that goes against the standard guidelines of traditional narrative and becomes a cinematic experience. A journey to capture the rhythm of a moment and the essence of the characters inner feelings and emotions. The imagery of the film is among the most breathtaking ever shown on film. The film is able to tell its story and feelings through images (the beautiful use of yellow lighting, symbolic imagery, detailed and precise expressive compositions). Through a collection of images life and cinema connect to create a magical world of beauty and poetry. The earliest core of The Sprit of the Beehive lies in the images of James Whales 1931 classic Frankenstein (particularly the scene with the little girls picking flowers). Everything is shown through the eyes of a child as the film becomes a journey of growth and life experience and of childhood memories. The heart and soul of the film is that of the child’s gaze of cinema profoundly lasting images. It is the discovery of cinema and how one experiences and reacts to cinematic images. By placing the eyes on the Don Jose mannequin (a figure similarly created like Frankenstein), Ana is discovering a vision and a spirit within herself, one of imagination, and above all a spirit of faith. Ultimately The Spirit of the Beehive unlocks the door to dreams and endless imagination as dreams and reality become the emotional essence. Though time is significant in both history and setting (the 1940s- post civil war Spain) as well as the release of the film, there is a transcendence and universal emotion that makes it timeless. The Spirit of the Beehive is a lyrical film of feeling and atmosphere through visual images, this is a poetic masterpiece of cinema to celebrate and among my all-time favorite films.

The Filmmaker

Despite such a short body of work, I would easily consider Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice among my all-time favorite filmmakers. Poetic and reflective in his use of visuals and use of environment Erice's films leave a remarkable sense of feeling. Though he made some shorts early on, Erice has only made three features (1973's The Spirit of the Beehive, 1983’s El Sur and 1992’s The Sun of the Quince Tree). He has also made a couple shorts recently including the outstanding segment he made in the Ten Minutes Older series (titled "Lifeline"). Despite his small body of work, Erice stands as one of Spanish cinemas most acclaimed filmmakers. Erice uses the idea of film and film imagery to create a sense of imagination and individuality. Of course this is most notable in his greatest masterpiece 1973's The Spirit of the Beehive. I'm not sure if Erice will ever make another feature film.

Images
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Resources
trailer (youtube)      
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