Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Victor Erice's gorgeously filmed allegory centering around two young girls, their emotionally remote family life and the film Frankenstein seems to me a bit mysterious, so much so that I don't think I quite got it all on first viewing. What struck me thematically was the film's depiction of childhood as a time of fumbling for understanding -- the whole film is structured as Ana's journey towards the comprension of how we deal with horror. She asks her sister after seeing Frankenstein, "Why did he kill the little girl?" trying to puzzle out the meaning of death in as straightforward a manner as a child can, but her sister's deflectory answer ("Movies are all fake") opens a window into a world where pain and unhappiness are shuffled away, obscured or generally understood only in a sidelong manner (her mother writes letters to an imaginary brother, while her father obsesses over his bees). Tne end of the film sees Ana forcibly confronted with the fact of death apart from distancing or coping mechanisms; this, then, leads into the idea that she will soon be better equipped to understand both her parents' isolation from each other and the spectre of Franco that looms in the background of the film's 1940s time period. This distance between the actual and the perceived, between what is true and what is presented, seems to be reflected in the film's favoring of long shots. Erice often isolates his characters in the midst of large landscapes (especially whenever Ana and/or her sister Isabel approach the large farmhouse in which crucial narrative events take place), thus giving a sense of isolation within something larger than oneself; however, I also find that Erice's open compositions and framing (i.e. the scene where Ana and Isabel are at the train tracks) give a sense of temporal movement -- not only are we being shown where the characters are, but we're also seeing where they've been and where they will be, which ties into the idea of the evolution of understanding. There's more, plenty more, I'm sure. (I haven't even touched upon, say, the honeybee symbolism.) I'll have to watch this again. Not that that's a bad thing.

Grade: B


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