Sunday, April 09, 2006

Spirit of the Beehive

El Esparitu de la Colmena
Elias Querejeta Producciones Cinematograficas S.L.
Director: Victor Erice
Length: 97 min.
Country: Spain
Format: 35mm
Date Viewed: 26 March, 2006

James Whale's Frankenstein comes to a rural Spanish farming community and changes the life of seven year-old Ana in Victor Erice's debut film, Spirit of the Beehive. The screening of the famous horror film leads to a series of events that culminate in the ending of the young girl's innocence: she learns that the adult world is a scary place, filled with people who lie and people who are not what they seem, that death is inevitable and perhaps most importantly, that monsters do not exist.

This is all slowly revealed throughout the course of the film, which takes its time with very long yet beautiful shots of nature, the father's beehives and the large and eerily empty house that Ana and her family live in. But these shots don't quite reach the level of poetry or include the level of meaning that comes with similar shots in, say, a Terrence Malick film. After a while, and though they look pretty, these shots seem to function more as padding than meaningful atmosphere.

Spirit of the Beehive is a very good film, though, if for nothing more than the terrific performance by Ana Torrent, the greatest performance by a child actor I have seen to date. But the story and the beauty of the film developed through the cinematography and editing, aside from the latter's eventual narrative unimportance, are also good reasons to see it. The film's complex symbolism makes the story very difficult to understand (I'm sure there are deeper meanings I've missed), but it is somewhat easy to pick out the main ideas, and it is very refreshing that Erice chose not to insult our intelligence in the creation of his debut.


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