El espíritu de la colmena (1973) Poster

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Children and Monsters, a return to childhood fantasies.
rudronriver1 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It is generally accepted that a political meaning has to be decoded whenever looking at this movie (it was filmed in the last years of Franco's dictatorship in Spain, and the story takes place in 1940, a year after the Spanish Civil War ended). But I suggest that one should firstly pay attention to the closest level of meaning: that is, just looking at the plain story narrated, metaphors aside. As 30 years after it was filmed so many people all over the world finds the movie fascinating it must be because of its emotive story about childhood universe, narrated in a poetically quiet tone.

The life of Ana, a five year-old girl living in a little village of Castille, is subverted after watching James Whale's "Frankenstein" in a mobile cinema (the scene in itself is a cherished sample on the sociology of movie-going). The non appropriate for children movie raises questions in Ana, who is fascinated by the mystery of the Monster -or Spirit- as her older sister tells her that he lives close to their large house. For Ana, the heart of this mystery is the discovery of death amidst the lies of her sister and the oppressing family environment, dominated by the effects of war. Ana will be devoted to looking for the Spirit-Monster and when she finds a wounded fugitive soldier (a superb scene without words) she will feed and clothe him as she takes him for the Spirit; later on she will be shocked by the discovery of death. The mixture of reality and fantasy in a child's mind when dealing with the mysteries of life and death in the context of an alienated family and the devastated landscape of the postwar period in Spain, is the main story narrated from Ana's point of view.

There are other stories which can be interpreted in several ways: the enigmatic life of the father, devoted to writing about social organization of bees; the mother writing to a distant beloved one; the sister, who deceives Ana with stories and playing death. These other plots convey other meanings to the movie; in a second level of meaning it is possible to interpret the beehive and the large house as a metaphor for the isolated Spain after the war, the monster as the incarnation of totalitarianism (made up of death bodies and the mind of a criminal), the two sisters as the metaphor of the two bands that fought in the fratricide Spanish War, and even the encounter of Ana with the fugitive soldier could be interpreted as the impossibility for this two bands of the country for becoming reconciled. There was a political intention for the movie, but is the plain story of the discoveries in childhood what gives the film a lasting preeminence. It also stands out for the great cinematography and the acting of children.
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graceful and elegant
muerco7 August 2006
Like many of the other commentators here, I had heard about this movie long before I had ever had a chance to see it, although it typically is mentioned as one of Spain's greatest films. It definitely is. It is masterfully directed and I have not been able to stop thinking about it for days.

The story is elliptically told and demands your participation in making sense of the narrative, but it's also leisurely paced and allows you to breathe in the atmosphere rather than forcing a particular reading on you. One thing you wouldn't guess from reading the other comments is how this is as much a film about nature as about history--it is like a poem of the countryside in winter, with long vistas of stone farmhouses framed against the rising sun. The film with the most similar visual palette is Malick's "Days of Heaven", but that film feels simplistic compared to the full immersion in history and memory presented in this film--a much more complete vision of the past.

Ana Torrent is unforgettable. I can think of no better film about children, yet (as with so many other things in this movie) it doesn't feel forced--these kids aren't just the director's pawns, but real, living beings.

If you get a chance to see it, definitely make the effort.
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A masterstroke of allegorical film-making
desh7917 June 2005
I was about sixteen years old when I first saw The Spirit Of The Beehive, the first so-called "art house" movie I was ever fully confronted with. I say "confronted" because I had simply never seen anything like it before, and in a way I felt almost offended by its ambiguity and symbolism. How dare a movie suggest I tie all the loose ends together? I want everything on a plate, right there, explained! Then I watched it again. And again. And eventually it dawned on me: Film-making does not necessarily have to be about what we are *meant* to inscribe into something - it's what we, personally, subjectively, read into it, based on our experience and perspective of the world. Victor Erice's Espiritu De La Colmena introduced me to a whole new approach to film and cinema, and one which paved the way to my admiration for directors like Tarkovsky, Marker, and generally any unconventional film-maker under the sun. For that alone it holds a special resonance to me.

While there is definitely a point to be made that this film is, first and foremost, a haunting look at the innocence of childhood, the subversive political meaning was something which is primarily the result of an attempt on my behalf to tie all the loose ends together, and the conclusion below is something I arrived at based on my own personal understanding of the narrative.

On the surface, The Spirit Of The Beehive is about a family which attempts to cope with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. It bears mentioning that the fact that this film even dares to address the conflict in such a direct manner suggests that, two years before Franco's death, the tight censorship regime in Spain was slowly but surely loosening its grip of the domestic film industry. Up to that point many films made in Spain during the Franco era were only able to address the civil war or Franco's regime in a strongly metaphorical manner or via subversive narratives (a case in point being much of Bunuel's work, albeit done in exile, or Saura's La Caza). In fact, much of Spanish cinema during that point in history can be regarded as an excellent case study in how allegories can be used as a way of averting tight censorship.

That said, political commentary on a tangible level would not have passed the censors even at such a late stage in Franco's reign, and thus most of the criticism in ...Colmena is driven by a sense of mutual understanding between spectator and narrative. The start of the film is a case in point: a shot of a few children watching James Whale's Frankenstein (with the narrator proclaiming that "You are about to see a monster") is followed by a cut to the girl protagonist's (Ana's) father. For now assuming that this narrative is driven exclusively by metaphors, does Victor Erice suggest, with that cut, that the girl's father is the "monster" in question? Or, does he, on a more profound level equate the word father to monster? Franco called himself the "father of the nation", and with that knowledge in mind an audience could easily read that scene as a highly ambiguous, yet still extremely effective, criticism of Franco (ie. suggestively calling Franco a monster). However, due to its strongly ambiguous nature, not a single censor would be able to pinpoint that scene and say, without any discernible doubt, that this is indeed the case. It's a wonderful example of allegorical film-making, and how film techniques can be generally used to make an intrinsic statement which relies as much to the techniques applied as it does on the audience's intelligence and ability to understand the more profound meaning behind the images.

I remember once reading the viewpoint that Ana herself represents the Spanish nation, and I can see what the intention of that statement is when you consider the monster=Franco equation I outlined above. The monster Ana meets in her daydreams (as she imagines meeting the Boris Karloff figure she saw at the Frankenstein screen) is a figure which lulls her into a false sense of security and turns out to be a threatening presence; and the symbolism itself becomes very plain once the monster=Franco and Ana=Spain (though I'll admit that this is not the most original reading of the film, and aditionally one which doesn't even begin to scrape at the amount of symbolism apparent).

If only Erice was as prolific as he is imaginative, since El Espiritu De La Colmena makes up for only one third of his entire output in over thirty years (his other two films being the equally brilliant El Sur and Quince Tree Of The Sun). Needless to say, it's cinematic genius, and a flawless work of art bar none.
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The greatest film about childhood
federovsky22 September 2005
One of my all time favourite films. The first time I watched it I thought it was nice, the second time, some years later, I was a bit disappointed - perhaps I had overblown it in my mind - the third time, another year later, I approached it with the right attitude and the whole thing came superbly alive.

All is serene for two village girls until a travelling cinema shows "Frankenstein" in their village. Perhaps they are a little bored - and there is a sense that the village is holding its breath (due to the war) - but after this the girls allow little creepy moments to begin pervading their lives. Theresa is only playing, but Anna is not.

There are many simple, mesmerising scenes: Anna standing transfixed by the railway line as the train approaches; Theresa almost strangling the cat and painting her lips with blood from her pricked finger, then later pretending to be dead in a dreamy, rich, prolonged, silent scene.

The old barn is one of the most atmospheric settings in all cinema. The silence and stillness of the place, remote from the ordinary world, makes it instantly magical, and the calm photography captures every nuance of mood. There is one glorious transition when the camera, resting on Anna's sleeping face, cuts to sleeping face of the fugitive in the barn, then cuts again back to Anna's face - but this time she is standing in the barn watching him. Wonderful.

There are also funny moments: the two girls running screaming from the cinema; laughing over their bowls of milk at breakfast; learning anatomy with "Don Jose" in the classroom (another incarnation, in Anna's imagination, of Frankenstein). There is also a fine moment when the dog (great little canine performance here) finds Anna in the ruins.

Don't be fooled by all the pretentious-sounding comments that the key to understanding this film is really the Spanish civil war. That is the context, and there are metaphors to be had (like the faded aristocratic house and the exhausted lives of the girls' parents), but this is not a film about politics or even society, forget about that and dwell on something much more important, something that will always persist: the imagination of childhood that has no idea yet whether the world is ordinary or extraordinary; the powerlessness of the child in the grip of tentative imaginings created out of fear and fascination, and drawn, if only by curiosity, towards a compelling but inexplicable fate, and yielding to it, only to find it chimerical.
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the shadow of the monster on the water and Ana
Semra Toramanoglu27 November 2006
What I am most affected each time I see Erice's this movie is his ability to convey the world of a child to us sometimes even without depending on the dialogues. Instead, he prefers creating a beautiful atmosphere and feelings by using the faces, looks, the light and the silence.

We can give an alternative name to this movie as "the spirit of the house", for the director tries to show what is going on in this house whose windows resemble to honeycombs. Erice deliberately chooses not to give any shots with all members of the family, as there is serious feeling of alienation between father and mother, and total lack of communication and affection between them, and from them towards their children. Under that situation the only person whom Ana could touch with her words, plays and questions is her sister Isabel. Their house looks like a beehive with the queen bee, male worker bee, and child bees performing their duties only by being in the same house without touching to each other.

When Ana's best friend and her sister played on her trust and fears by deceiving her, she totally turned inward and found the image and the dream of Frankenstein ready for her friendship and to give her feeling of closeness. After she met the wounded Republican soldier, her Frankenstein's image came into being in his existence, who is considered as dangerous and outside the society by adults just like in the original Frankenstein movie. Like the girl in the latter, Ana does not see the fugitive as how adults define Frankenstein, as something to be run away from. Instead, she considers him as Frankenstein who could be her friend. I see the shadow of the "monster" on this movie used beautifully and magically by the director.

During the 97 minutes of the movie, Erice and his cinematographer Luis Cuadrado both reflect the heart of a child to us with their magical scenes, and skillfully convey the grey feeling of the civil war in the background without straightforwardly pointing their fingers to it.
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gullible youth
RanchoTuVu24 February 2005
Erice's film about a young girl who sits through a screening of the l931 classic Frankenstein with her older sister moves slowly along but has some startling moments that unexpectedly bubble up. The girl (Ana Torrent) has a face that would melt anyone's heart and gives a terrific performance for a child (or anyone). The older sister (Isabel Telleria) also terrific, likes to lead her little sister along, and convinces her that Frankenstein exists in the here and now and can be easily found in an abandoned farm or by simply closing your eyes. The farm is a much more compelling setting and seeing the little girl alone there gives you the chills because you know one day someone might actually show up and while it probably won't be Frankenstein, it could be someone dangerous. Her inevitable disillusionment is dramatically presented when she runs away from her home. Her adventure takes the viewer along on a emotional ride especially when we see our little friend sitting down beside the toxic mushrooms that her father told her and her sister never to eat. Set in the seemingly endless Spanish countryside in 1940 and nicely filmed in color, it is a quiet little film with a big dramatic impact.
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Ana Torrent, Ana Torrent and Ana Torrent.
GiaLegs28 February 1999
Has a child performer given as pure and brilliant a performance as Ana Torrent did in Victor Erice's allegorical masterpiece? This film has everything going for it; great performances, a honey hued atmosphere courtesy of Luis Cuadrado's genius as a cinematographer, and subtle, dreamy direction by Mr. Erice. I had often heard many works described as "dreams" in particular Bergman's works ("The Silence," "Hour of the Wolf"). As far as I'm concerned, this film ranks right beside the works of the master. It is an intense and involving work of art, which beckons us to look at a violent world, through the eyes of the children populating the screen. Many images stand out; among them the girls jumping over a fire and Ana sitting next to the "monster." This film should be seen by anyone who appreciates brilliant cinema. It will not dissapoint you, I guarantee.
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creatively captivates the viewer through images rather than words and leaves you wondering after the last scene has ended.
dlkohrs28 October 2000
This is an enchanting movie about two young sisters caught in the silence of post-war Spain. While representing the isolation of Spain in that era and the lack of communication that persisted throughout the country, "El espíritu de la colmena," by Victor Erice in 1973, fascinated me with its use of dramatic chiaroscuro lightening, large panoramic shots and the use of fades to connect scenes while commenting on the time warp that Spain endured after the war.

Without using much dialogue in the movie, Erice artistically comments on the political tension in Spain through potent images and scenes. He uses symbols such as the two young sisters to represent the division between the Republican and Nationalist parties, and the leitmotif of the beehive to represent the "trapped" workers in Spain under Franco. The most amazing aspect is that all of the post-war commentary is said without any words and without mentioning the actual event! It is a "cine de espectáculo," or spectacle cinema, that symbolizes the connection between fantasy in the movies and fantasy in reality. Without knowing the history of Spain, a spectator could misinterpret the movie as a commentary about the imagination of a little girl after viewing the movie "Frankenstein." The character of Frankenstein is a main component contributing to Ana's, the younger sister, interpretation of reality in Spain, and it gains meaning as Frankenstein evolves from a character in the movie to an object of fantasy. It continues to evolve into a man of flesh and bones and finally represents the hope of Ana when all other sources of information in her life turn out to be faulty.

"El espíritu de la colmena" is a powerful movie that uses many metaphors (such as Ana for the young, innocent generation of Spain) to question the interpretation of reality. It is a powerful, artistically made movie that captivates the viewer through images rather than words. It should be seen more than once in order to understand all it's hidden messages.
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Mysterious and beautiful
xenophil5 July 2001
I was not aware of the political significance of this movie when I saw it, but I was struck by the eerie, quiet way the story built up scene by scene, with hardly any dialog, and hardly any camera movement. This quietness allows you to reflect on what the meaning might be as it sifts gradually into your consciousness, leading to sudden realizations that come as quite a shock.

I found I had a strong empathy for the little girl who is trying to make sense of a story she has been told (in the movie) that has a powerful grip on her heart and imagination, and has an apparent connection with bigger, drastic events the real world, in a way she tries to understand.

I think it is really rather profound and affecting, even if you know nothing of Spanish history.
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The Magic of the Movies Through the Eyes of a Wide-Eyed Child
noralee16 February 2006
"Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la colmena)" is a lovely insight into the mind of a child, where fantasy mixes with reality and stories with dreams. This is a beautiful metaphor for the magic of the movies and co-writer/director Víctor Erice illustrates the connection further by having the impact of the film "Frankenstein" with Boris Karloff on a young girl as the pivotal plot point.

Ana Torrent is a wide-eyed innocent who carries the film, as we completely enter into how she integrates her daily life, both the quotidian happenings and the unusual, with scary stories her older sister teases her with and with the film. Her beautiful eyes are expressive and haunting. As someone who had an older sister with all kinds of outlandish tales that were gullibly believed, the sibling teasing is the most natural I've seen on film.

Erice has a completely original take on the Frankenstein story, no matter how many times it has been referenced in other movies. "Ana" powerfully relates to the little girl in the film, even though she does not understand any of the darker emotions or outcomes. The film inspires her to seek out misfits and outcasts, with unintended consequences and impacts on the adult world.

The adult world is the weakest part of the film, or it's so heavy with symbolism about the 1940's period when the film takes place or of the end of Francoism in Spain when the film was made that it's lost for a viewer first seeing the film today. While sometimes the parents', teachers' and servants' behavior seems mysterious if we were just seeing it from her perspective, their obliviousness and self-involvement in their own intellectual and romantic pursuits aren't really explained, even as her father's pompous hobby somehow gives the film its title. It might be some sort of commentary on how adults have their own way of blending fantasy and reality or some other political commentary.

Seen in a new 35 MM print at NYC's Film Forum, the cinematography by Luis Cuadrado was stunning. The rural scenes of fields, forest and horizon --where dangers and threats always lurk beneath the pastoral--are beautiful, with simply gorgeous looking vignettes of childhood experiences.

I wonder if this insightful look inside a child's mind influenced such films as "I'm Not Scared (Io non ho paura)" and "Paperhouse." but the film seems so fresh and creative I was surprised that it was made in 1973.
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Nests, Dreams
tedg5 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In what is by now canonical form for Hispanic filmmakers, this film has nesting, overlaps, each one more fantastic and dreamlike. Calling this sort of thing surreal or magical does not do it justice. It is layered dreamspace, sort of an "Inception" but with different dreamer- narrators.

At the "top," you have a political situation in a country that is so bizarrely extreme I cannot fathom it. The church is encouraging and feeding both sides, and religious iconography of that passive-aggressive Spanish sort is present at each layer.

Within that is a man with a vision of the world, based on bee's nests. He has agency within his world, as he sees the bees as his nested vision with agents. His home is in fact a beehive, with hexagonal windows, the rooms layered like frames in the hive. He dreams on paper, possibly the writer of the film.

Beside the man is his handsome wife who (we surmise) is having an affair that she ends, and re-enters the hive.

But within this family dreamhive are two small girls with another vision, one simpler and more immediate, based on monsters within the simple religious context they see. Most of the film — which seems highly symbolic but is not I think — is their dreamspace.

And in a brilliant structural move, at the bottom of this folded system is the same as what we have above the top: a film. The film within is "Frankenstein," the brilliant, magical original by Whale.

The girls connect to the movie, the father to the girls in the beehive, the nation at war to the father, the nation to the movie we see.

This is thankfully not the dreary exercises in separation from reality that Bunuel is known for. I never relate to his images. This instead starts from the hearts of beings and attracts images. Because it is human, it works. Because it has deliberate layers, we lose our place in the layered system and fall into it. If you are anything like me, you'll cry from halfway until the end.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Visually beautiful story seen through the eyes of a child
jonnajureen3 August 2009
The Spirit of the Beehive is set in 1940, right after the civil war of Spain. It is a beautifully story seen trough a young girl's eyes. The main character of the movie is Ana, who lives with her father who spends most of his time writing about his beehives and her mother who is writing love letters to a distant lover and Ana's older sister Isabel, all of them living in their own isolated world. One evening, Ana and Isabel goes to the movie theater to see the Frankenstein. While most of the children are terrified by the story, Ana finds it fascinating and is excited by the darker sides of life. At home the same night, Ana asks her sister Isabel why Frankenstein killed the girl. Isabel answers that he didn't really kill her and that everything in the movies is fake. Frankenstein is like a spirit and if she closes her eyes and calls him, he might show up. This has a profound impact on Ana and the story of Frankenstein also come to function as the movies' nave. Isabel takes her to an abandoned building where she says that Frankenstein lives. Day after day, she comes back alone in hope to see him. One day, a soldier escapes from a train and finds the building. Ana finds him and brings him food and warm clothes. Just a couple of days later, the soldier is found and killed. When Ana goes back to the building, she finds only the blood and understands that he has been killed. Here, Ana's world comes into its own and when Ana is wandering the woods at night an inner journey is taking place as well. That night, she doesn't return home. She meets Frankenstein when sitting by a river, just like the scene from the Frankenstein movie in the beginning. Even though the movie is set in the context of Franco's regime, this aspect seems isolated from the story, which is solely a reality told through a child's world, questioning what is right and what is wrong and maybe more important; what is reality. Visually it is beautiful. After returning home the night Ana was found in the woods, she is traumatized and doesn't speak about her experience. In the end, she goes to the window and again whispering to the spirit: "It's me Ana".
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great European auteurs
jnine313 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Amazing film, based on memory and emotion. Erice does a wonderful job, of showing the audience the nature of children and time. Most adults forget, until they themselves have children, or an encounter with a child just how confusing it is for a child to grasp the sense of time and certain life events. As a child everything and anything seems possible. As adults we are aware that certain things are the end, and the way things are sometimes are unchangeable. Erice uses Frankenstein and a little girl named Ana to help us realize how amazing it is to be a child. Frankenstein plays a common theme in all the characters lives, maybe not literally Frankenstein, but a "thing" that all the characters face daily that they deal with. For Ana it is literally Frankenstein, after she sees the movie. For her father it is his obsessions with bees, he is constantly thinking about, and playing with the bees. For her mother, it is possibly a lover that she is writing to throughout the entire movie. Ana is such a brilliant character, most of us forget that she is really a child in this movie. The genuine facial expressions shown, like when she is interacting with the wounded solider in the abandoned farm house. She is not scared, she even gets close to him to tie his shoe, and its the solider who flinches not the little girl. She brings his a jacket, and apple and then runs home. Her ability to be so genuine, is a characteristic most adults hope to possess. The dream sequence where Ana meets Frankenstein, is wonderful, it plays with the audiences mind, and makes your wonder did it really happen? and if it did really happen does that mean Frankenstein really does exist? or was it just a dream? The ending is phenomenal as well, you could not ask for anything better. As Ana is standing in the window, facing inward to the house saying "I am Ana, I am Ana"-so powerful, yet only from a child. She is realizing that she is a child, and its OK to exist in both worlds-the adult world, and the child world.
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Who am I?
ayala-nadia1 August 2009
The protagonist, Ana is trying to see who she is and were she stands in life. She begins to see things and does not know if they are real. she enters an incredible adventure trying to find herself identity. She goes through what many children perhaps go through, trying to see who they are, what is real and what is in their imagination, experiencing the idea of death, fear, and trust. Ana see's things she does not know if they are real. Reality plays a major role in this movie for Ana. she must find out everything herself and experience things that help her find her identity. At the end when she says, "I am Ana," I believe she has found her identity and understands life as it is and her identity.
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"The light is bothering her"
hasosch11 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
One cannot really spoil this excellent movie by talking about the plot, since, like in all good movies, the essential is behind the words. However, in the center of "The Spirit of the Beehive" is a young girl and her sister. Both watch, from the customs of nowadays we would say: much too early, James Whale's "Bride of Frankenstein". But for Ana, the one of the young girls, the movie is not finished at its end, but the idea that Frankenstein lives out there in the forests and comes into the village by night, follows her, until she meets him: first in the person of a fugitive and then "real", when she is sitting one night at a pond and sees the structure of his face first in the water and then in the whole person behind her.

Surely, one can interpret this movie in a political sense. A whole second disc is dedicated to such attempts, and from Frankenstein to Franco it is really only a small step, but this is not what the movie is about. Everybody would agree that objects can change signs. F.ex., on a street where the circulation has increased massively, the city will probably put much more traffic lights, zebra crossings and other signs of circulation. But what happens if the signs start to change the objects? When, f.ex., James Whale's Frankenstein becomes real for little Ana? As a matter of fact: Her whole life has changed since she was watching this movie in the old warehouse of her Castilian village. That signs have a life independent of the objects that they normally designate gives the little girl the idea that she is not alone in this world of mostly older people, convinces her that she is somebody special because she knows now how to participate on the invisible world - the world that is governed by signs that change the objects. The movie closes with showing little Ana walking towards the moon-light which shines into her bedroom from outside of the balcony. She stands there and says exactly what I have just said, but in her own vocabulary. Then, she turns towards the camera and thus the audience. Did we understand, why?
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Best foreign film from Spain EVER?
Hap Trout (HapRay)7 May 2007
I appreciate a good foreign film as well as the next critic, but aside from the great acting performances by the two sisters, and the lovely cinematography, there is little here to maintain one's interest. I kept waiting for something to happen, other than the director's symbolism, and alas, nothing did. I'm sure there are messages here and there that I apparently missed, but I sure as hell cannot fathom where they might be.

I even speak Spanish, and it didn't help in trying to "get" this film. I was duped by the 7.8 rating on this site, and the push in the paper to be "sure to watch this film".

I can't honestly advise anyone to waste the hour or so it takes to watch this film, so I won't.
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A little girl is disturbed after a traveling projectionist screens a print of James Whale's "Frankenstein"
ma-cortes2 August 2012
Sensational film that dispenses a thought-provoking plot and considered to be one of the best Spanish films , in fact was voted third best Spaniard film by professionals and critics in 1996 Spanish cinema centenary . It deals with a rural Spain soon after Franco's victory , wasteland of inactivity and poorness . It's 1940 in a small, stark Castillian village , there a sensitive seven-year-old girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) , her sister Isabel (Isabel Telleria) along with their parents (Fernando Fernan Gomez , Teresa Gimpera) are living a small village in 1940 rural Spain . The father gets relief by the industriousness of bees in their hives . Ana then is traumatized after viewing James Wale's 1931 "Frankenstein" and drifts into her own fantasy world . The movie leaves a lasting impression on seven year old Ana and she is heavily traumatized . The fragile , single little Anna dreams of meeting the monster and befriends a fugitive man just before he is chased .

Sensitive film full of feeling , haunting mood-pieces , wonderful images and sense of wonder . This extraordinary flick spells through intricate patterns of frames , sets , sound and color . Interesting screenplay by the same director Erice based on a story by Angel Fernandez Santos . Luxurious photography by magnificent cameraman Luis Cuadrado helped by another excellent cinematographer , Teo Escamilla , Cuadrado was going blind at the time this film was made , he eventually went completely blind and committed suicide in 1980 . Moving and emotive musical score by Luis De Pablo . Good and evocative art direction by subsequently filmmaker Jaime Chavarri , showing faithfully rural scenarios , as the deserted building next to the well was actually an abandoned sheep-shed , being filmed on location in Hoyuelos, Segovia, Castilla y León and Parla, Madrid . The motion picture well produced by notorious producer Elias Querejeta was stunningly directed by Victor Erice , nicknamed the Spanish Terence Malick . He filmed a total of exactly 1000 shots in the film , exactly 500 are inside, and 500 are outside ; there is no shot of all the family in a single frame in the entire film : even in the dinner-table scene, the actors are shown separately . Erice has made only two films more , the generally well regarded ¨El Sur¨ , ¨El sol del Membrillo¨ and some Shorts too . This touching picture will appeal to Spanish films buffs . Rating : Top-notch and outstanding movie , worthwhile seeing .
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Papa, have you ever picked a bad mushroom?
tieman648 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Spirit of the Beehive" is one of those seminal movies that seeped into my very soul." - Guillermo del Toro

1940. The Spanish Civil war has ended with General Francisco Franco, a ruthless dictator, claiming victory over the Republic of Spain. Though all violence has ended, the aftereffects of war can still be felt throughout the countryside. Spain's populace is disillusioned, all egalitarian movements seem to have been crushed (much to the pleasure of the Western Empires and European monarchs) and millions now find themselves struggling to survive under the dark cloud of fascism.

Director Victor Erice takes this grim reality and applies it to Ana, a six-year-old girl who lives with her family in a rural village. An inquisitive and wide-eyed child, "The Spirit of the Beehive" charts Ana's fall from innocence. We watch as her naivety is slowly chiselled away, as she slowly comes of age, and as learns about the various monsters that inhabit the world around her.

Signs that all is not well hit us early. Though living together, Ana's family is incredibly alienated. Mother and father don't speak and Ana and her sister Isabel are largely left to their own devices. They spend their days roaming the countryside, whilst mommy writes letters to a distant lover and daddy tends religiously to his beehives, whose catacombs echo Spain's current fragmentation and decaying communal spirit.

But it is a single incident that triggers Ana's fall from innocence. When a mobile cinema brings a copy of "Frankenstein" to the village, Ana is instantly captivated by the film. "Why did he kill her?" Ana asks when Dr Frankenstein's monster kills a little girl on screen. "Why did they kill him?" she later whispers, when the creature is hunted and killed by angry villagers.

Stepping out of the cinema, the impressionable six-year-old suddenly sees the world in a much darker light. She is no longer a kid, but has instead become "the Spirit of the Beehive", the soul of the hive, the lone questioning voice in an increasingly totalitarian landscape. Director Victor Erice then uses countless "hive" and "honeycomb" metaphors to reinforce this notion. Houses are photographed like beehives, their windows a complex lattice of honeycombs, the families and children isolated worker bees, silently tending to some invisible queen, burying their pain in routine as the authoritarian arm of Franco hovers invisibly overhead. It is this grim world which Ana opens her eyes and sees.

Suddenly obsessed with death, spirits, torture, violence, the human body and sexuality, Ana asks her sister how she can contact the monster she saw in "Frankenstein". More curious then horrified, she is determined to see this evil in the flesh. Luckily Ana's sister claims to know where the monster lives, and points Ana in the direction of an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of a field. Ana goes there and discovers, not a monster, but a rebel soldier hiding in the house. Ana brings him food and tends to his wounds, but it is no use. In a sequence which mirrors the aforementioned scene in "Frankenstein", the local villages band together in search for Ana, find the soldier, and kill him.

The film ends with Ana emotionally scarred and withdrawn. A doctor assures her parents that it is just a phase, that the trauma will pass and Ana will grow to put these horrors behind her, but director Victor Erice suggests otherwise. Looking in Ana's eyes, we know that she will never be the same again.

Throughout the film, Erice contrasts Ana's fragile withdrawal with the strength of her sister. Both girls are portrayed as virginal learning machines, but the way they assimilate the world is entirely different. Isabel deals in absolutes, always teasing out boundaries and invisible lines. She fakes her own death, playfully tortures a cat and enjoys toying with Ana's naivety. Ana, in contrast, struggles to identify things, deals with complex contradictions and fuzzy, overlapping boundaries and borders. She wants to understand what is good and bad, wants to see through disguises, but is hampered by the fact that she senses vague but important textures that others ordinarily overlook. For example, in one scene she has trouble identifying poisonous mushrooms, in another she sees the Frankenstein creature as both monster and friend, and in others she views her own father as both authoritarian and protector.

Ana's sister, however, has no problems identifying things. Tellingly, the film ends with a shot of the bedroom which both sisters once shared. Isabel's bed is empty, suggesting that she has left her childhood bed and taken her first steps toward adulthood. Ana, in contrast, is stuck between worlds, as the final shot symbolises, the little girl hovering between darkness and light, fantasy and truth, future, past and present.

Ultimately, "Beehive" perfectly captures that moment in every child's life when naiveté turns to knowing. Using a ghostly village as a symbol for Spain's internal destruction after years of domestic struggle, Ana's "spirit" is nothing less than Spain's own national journey into maturity and discovery.

9/10 – A great film, far superior to Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth", to which comparisons are often made. Both films use monsters as a metaphor for warfare, both make references to "hives" or "labyrinths" controlled by invisible monsters, and both revolve around little girls.

But the films differ in how their supernatural elements are used to provoke different outcomes. "Labyrinth" is designed to console, its heroine becoming a "beautiful princess" who finds her way back to her real family. Ana, however, returns home emotionally wounded and further detached. Perhaps because Erice made "Spirit" during Franco's lifetime his film possesses a sense of melancholy that Del Toro's, with decades of hindsight, understandably lacks. Worth two viewings. The film's visual style owes a lot to Yasujiro Ozu, of whom Erice is a big fan.
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About the whimsy of childhood--and how youngsters take things to heart more seriously than we realize...
moonspinner5529 July 2006
Highly-regarded Spanish film (released there in 1973 but not stateside until 1976) about a little girl in a small Spanish village in 1940 who sees the film "Frankenstein" in a makeshift theater and becomes obsessed with one certain sequence (where the monster is befriended by a little girl near the river). Having seemingly no other friends beyond her older sister, the child hopes to find Frankenstein's monster--or, indeed, any strange, silent grown-up--to fulfill her fantasy. The central idea, juxtaposed with her beekeeper father's and lonely mother's own haunted pasts, has an exciting, surreal quality, but once the theme has been established (that children have a much different take on fantasy than adults do), there isn't much more the movie can offer. The strange scenario is alluring, yet this narrative--children seeking friendships with lonely adults--has been covered before, although the magic of the movies (specifically Hollywood movies shown outside the country) is beautifully represented. Perhaps influential on a number of other pictures (say, "Cinema Paradiso"), "The Spirit of the Beehive" is itself derivative and fails to really take off, but it does have small pleasures. ** from ****
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Movies Must Have Really Been Boring In Spain Prior To '73
ccthemovieman-114 August 2006
One famous critic said 'Spirit Of the Beehive' was "the best movie ever produced in Spain." Well, if that's the case nobody should go to the movies in Spain, or at least shouldn't have gone up until this was released (or made) in 1973. Hopefully, Spanish movies have become a lot more interesting that this.

That was problem with the film; it was just plain boring. There wasn't anything offensive in here to turn people off. It's just a boring film about a little girl and her fantasy that someone she would meet "Frankenstein" out in the woods. Obviously she saw the classic movie and the part in which the monster is out in the woods with this little girl impressed her.

This is a total waste of an hour-and-half, so don't be sucked into the reviews of this.
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Too uneventful...fails to make a point with nothing more than haunting imagery...
Neil Doyle13 January 2007
I have to confess that I had to stop watching more than halfway through because tedium overcame my ability to concentrate on more of this sensitive film from Spain about youth and lost innocence. At least that's what I think the filmmaker was trying to develop, but the theme remained pretty obscure up until the point I stopped watching.

The photography is gorgeous and vistas of Spain, supposedly during the '40s under Franco's rule, are intriguing, if a bit barren.

The early scenes of the villagers gathering to watch a movie on folded chairs in a primitive looking town hall of some kind are fascinating to watch and one hopes that some strong characterizations will be developed. But fascination soon turns to tedium when the film dwells uneventfully on two girls who have witnessed the FRANKENSTEIN movie and are caught up in the concept of the monster's contact with the little girl.

From that point on, it's a film too uneventful to make a satisfying viewing experience--at least for me. It gives no insight into the connection between the villagers and the girls and what they have experienced from seeing the film which obviously made a deep impression on the impressionistic girls.

Perhaps another viewing of the complete film at some future date will change my mind, but for now I can't give this a strong recommendation.

Deliberately ambiguous until the end, it fails to connect the dots.
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Save yourselves - don't watch this film!!
bfinn25 April 2005
This film only has two faults: (i) it is completely infantile, (ii) it is unspeakably tedious.

Other than that, it is a masterpiece.

On the first point, it features two tiny tots and their unutterably dull (see below) lives. The kiddywink occurrences depicted by this film are not recommended for viewers over the age of 4.

On the second point, this film is tedious, slow-moving, glacial, set in an empty, dull, windswept part of rural Spain where nothing ever happens. Some sample scenes: One day, the kiddywinks watch a film. Another day, they go to a shed in a field. Another day, a train goes past. Another day, they look at some old photographs. (Whoops - I fear I've just given away the first three-quarters of the movie.)

Each non-event is spread out over far more time than it could possibly deserve.

During the course of the film, I gnawed off my own leg in a bid to remain conscious. Now I can no longer walk, and I want to know who to sue.
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Boring art house film
John Rowley25 February 2009
There are some nice scenes in this film of the two children and they do give pretty good performances. The locations are good to look at too. But I found this film incredibly slow and tedious. There is not much dialogue and I found it difficult to care very much about any of the characters. Hardly anything happens and that which does happens is far more interesting as it was done in "Whistle down the wind".

Although it is quite nice to look at I would not recommend that you watch this film. I don't really understand why it has such a high rating and is regarded as a work of art. It is so slow moving. If this film was made now and set in whatever your country is I don't think there would be much point in watching it at all.

Obviously from the ratings most people seem to be completely at odds with my experience of watching this film but unless you like your films very slow paced and leaving you somewhat maudlin at the end I'd give it a miss.
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Tedious is now a genre
Harhaluulo544 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The Spirit of the Beehive is dull and empty shell of a movie with ridiculously slow pacing. The movie in generally has nothing going on. The only reason why people seem to like it and think it is great, is the deep symbolism it has to offer. People be like "I got it, it was deep and hence it is good." Deepness is good, but this movie is easily the least solid thing created by this medium, offering nothing but shallow and irrelevant scenes and zero plot which lead to a lacking conclusion which doesn't conclude more than any of the former scenes.

This movie is the prime example of a movie where there is nothing to get, but the fans will get "it" anyway. This movie is the reason why South Park made an episode about "The Poo That Took A Pee." For those who do not know, it was literally a story about poo taking a pee, written by an 8 year old, but people thought it was socially thought-provoking and deeply philosophical work about the current sate of our society and human nature. This movie's fans prove that apparently you don't have to think anything on your own while making a movie because the fans will do the thinking for you and refer to the movie with words like epic, smart and deep while the only word you need is tedious.
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