The Spirit of the Beehive (El espiritu de la colmena)

The Spirit of the Beehive

I am Ana.

The Spirit of the Beehive, a Spanish film by Victor Erice, is supposedly about the post-civil-war era of Spain in the 1940s. What metaphor and juxtaposition to this end the film did, I didn’t pick up on, not being much of a history scholar. To that end, I felt like I should apologize to the film, and to the filmmakers, for not “getting it”. I’m sure this has a very poignant and relevant message to tell native Spaniards, and it is mere unfortunate circumstance that I am not one, but here I am watching the film regardless. And you know what? I liked it, even without all the second layers of the onion being peeled back for me.

The film opts for a realistic look, with some very beautiful images drawn out of the landscapes and architecture used for the filming. A fleeting thought popped into my head that the images the film chooses to show us would truly be very beautiful if they’d had any sort of production value behind them, rather than just capturing what was there on camera, but I quickly disregarded this as a narrow-minded thought, as many are perfectly content to admire the beauty of the natural world rather than jazzed up imagery, and I can understand that. Still, the films images left me feeling lacking somehow, like not enough effort had been put into them, even though a good deal of effort had been. It was the story that left me hanging especially, though; while the main plot follows Ana and her fascination with Frankenstein, there’s a subplot involving the mother, who writes letters to a long-lost love and then burns them, and the father, who is apparently oblivious to the mother’s secret longings, and goes about his business tending to his beehives. The subplot didn’t seem to have a purpose to the film, other than presenting an implication toward the main plot that we can barely tell is there. The film probably wouldn’t have been as interesting without a subplot, so I can see how it was included; I just wish it had a little more relation to the main plot.

This is a nice looking film, with a nice looking plot, and a nice way of going about telling it. It was quaint, in a charming way, and for what the film was worth, I did end up liking it. Unfortunately (and you knew that was coming), I was a little lost as to why I should be seeing this film. Maybe what it had to say about its time period in Spanish history makes it notable; maybe the cinematography was supposed to be especially memorable (and indeed, it was my favorite part of the film); or maybe it was just a fine film that many haven’t seen because it’s foreign. Whatever the reason, it went over my head; I liked the experience of the film, but was simply lost on why it was a must see, and so well regarded by the global cinematic community. The book’s excerpt about this one did little to clear my confusion, extolling the virtues of the aesthetic and the mood and the deliberate waffling of the film that’s all for avoiding being identified as presenting one facet or the other, but doing nothing to explain why these aspects should be so memorable. All I can say is, even though I still couldn’t figure out its intent or its purpose in the world, I still liked the film, so a good portion of you will probably end up liking the film as well.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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