The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena), 1973

A detached, preoccupied scientist, Fernando (Fernando Fernan Gomez), has moved to the provincial tranquility of Castille with his young family in order to devote his time to the study of bees. He spends countless hours at an apiary observing their daily ritual, manipulating their environment, recording the results of his intervention. His wife, Teresa (Teresa Gimpera), languishing from the isolation of the remote town and her husband’s alienated affection, occupies her time by writing longing, heartfelt letters to loved ones left behind during the war. She hand delivers the letters to the train station, where a commuter train makes a brief stop, collects the mail, and sets out to its final destination. The children, Isabel (Isabel Telleria) and Ana (Ana Torrent), left alone to occupy themselves in their mother’s absence, attend the screening of Frankenstein at a makeshift movie theater in town. Ana, unsettled by the incomprehensible acts of the monster and the townspeople in the film, relentlessly asks Isabel to rationalize their actions. Isabel pacifies Ana by explaining that the monster is actually a spirit who cannot die, and takes the gullible Ana to an abandoned barn where she claims to see the spirit in the well. Intrigued by the prospect of finding the elusive spirit, Ana becomes obsessed with the idea of befriending the imaginary monster.

The Spirit of the Beehive is a visually poetic, haunting, and allegorical film on innocence, illusion, and isolation. Victor Erice uses the recurrent imagery of the beehive to create a pervasive sense of claustrophobia and geographic disconnection: the honeycomb structure of the stain glass windows through the house; the amber glow of the oil lamps and candles; the pervasive haze of the darkness of winter. Filmed in 1973 under the Franco regime, The Spirit of the Beehive is a deceptively lyrical tale of idyllic childhood memories and a disturbing portrait of isolation. Like the bees in Fernando’s experiments, the children are also unwitting subjects of an unnatural, artificial environment. In essence, Ana’s misguided actions mirror the illogical behavior of the disoriented bees attempting to adapt to an inorganic crystal beehive. Isolated from a natural environment, Ana, too, lacks a logical frame of reference. Her attempts to incarnate the spirit of the monster is a naive attempt to reconcile her own confusion. But inevitably, her quest leads further into the darkness – to more incomprehensible revelations – to deeper questions.

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