The Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la colmena) [DVD]
Director : Víctor Erice
Screenplay : Víctor Erice, Ángel Fernández Santos, Francisco J. Querejeta (story by Víctor Erice and Ángel Fernández Santos)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1973
Stars : Fernando Fernán Gómez (Fernando), Teresa Gimpera (Teresa), Ana Torrent (Ana), Isabel Tellería (Isabel), Ketty de la Cámara (Milagros, la criada), Estanis González (Guardia civil), José Villasante (The Frankenstein Monster), Juan Francisco Margallo (The Fugitive), Laly Soldevila (Doña Lucía, the teacher), Miguel Picazo (The Doctor)
The Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la colmena) opens with a truck rumbling down a barren road, seemingly from out of nowhere, and arriving at the small, seemingly empty Spanish village of Hoyuelo. It doesn’t carry food or medical supplies or water, but rather reels of film. “The movie is here, the movie is here!” a group of children exclaim as the proprietor of the ramshackle cinema unloads the cans of film, promising them the greatest experience of their lives. The cans contain James Whale’s 1931 horror classic Frankenstein, which comes to symbolize the heart of Víctor Erice’s extraordinary film.
The Spirit of the Beehive begins with the fabled “Once upon a time ...,” suggesting that we are meant to take it more metaphorically than literally. It is set in a specific, yet slightly vague time and place: “Somewhere on the Castilian plain around 1940.” The combination of specificity and ambiguity heightens the film’s symbolic qualities, which plays into Erice’s poetic imagery and deliberate pace; it unfolds like a dream--slowly, steadily, but often unexpectedly.
The film was released in 1973, near the end of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s nearly four-decade fascist dictatorship in Spain, and the lingering scars of the civil war that brought Franco to power are felt all over it. Yet, the village where the story takes place feels isolated and remote, as if it were the only place on earth; the only reminders that there is a larger world is when something arrives from the outside, whether it be reels of film or a letter or a wounded resistance soldier (who is, of course, never explicitly labeled as such).
The story is told from the point of view of two young sisters: the older, more reasonable Isabel (Isabel Tellería) and the younger, still impressionable and imaginative Ana (Ana Torrent). Erice establishes the child’s eye point of view with the opening credits, which unspool over a child’s drawings with a simple, yet haunting melody in the background. Ana, with her bright, inquisitive brown eyes and gentle face, is the film’s true innocent, with her willingness to believe in spirits and the unknown. Her look of astonishment while watching Frankenstein tells us everything we need to know about her openness to all the world has to offer, and when she later imagines an encounter with Frankenstein’s monster, it is an elegant, yet haunting moment.
Ana and Isabel live in an enormous, crumbling mansion with their parents, Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez) and Teresa (Teresa Gimpera), both of whom are withdrawn and isolated in their own ways. Fernando rarely speaks and keeps largely to himself; his world is consumed primarily by tending to beehives, which are the family’s source of income. Teresa spends much of her time writing letters to an unknown loved one in exile (a brother? a secret lover?--we never know for sure). Crucially, neither parent is every placed in the same frame with the other; Erice keeps them visually separated, thus underscoring their emotional distance from each other and their familial obligations.
The film is a less a linear story than it is a collection of memories (Erice refers to them as “emotional spaces”) drawn from the lives of the director (who, despite this amazing debut, has since completed only one feature and a documentary) and his cowriter, Ángel Fernández-Santos. The isolated location and the lyrical photography by Luis Cuadrado, who went blind several years after the film’s production, create a mood of hushed focus; each image drips with both significance and weightless beauty. It is easy to slip out of what little direct hold the narrative has to offer and sink into the imagery, losing track of time and space. As a film made under a ruthless dictatorship, The Spirit of the Beehive bears all the hallmarks of being about more than it is really about, and its multiple layers of significance and emotion, like the interlocking pattern evoked in both its title and its recurrent images of honeycomb stained-glass windows, promise endless rewards the deeper one digs into its mysteries.
|The Spirit of the Beehive Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||September 17, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The gorgeous new high-definition anamorphic transfer was taken from the restored 35mm internegative, after which it was then digitally color-corrected and further restored, resulting in a nearly flawless image. The film’s honey-colored imagery is smooth and clear, with a beautiful film-like appearance that maintains the original grain structure without losing sharpness of detail. Colors are soft and slightly muted, keeping with the intended look of the film. The 35mm optical track negative was used to transfer the monaural sound, which was also digitally restored and sounds very good.|
|The second disc in the this two-disc set contains a documentary and several lengthy interviews with those involved in the film’s production. The 1998 retrospective documentary The Footprints of a Spirit, which runs about 48 minutes in length, features director Víctor Erice, producer Elías Querejeta, coscreenwriter Ángel Fernández-Santos, and actor Ana Torrent reminiscing about the film. Most intriguing about the documentary is that it was shot in Hoyuelos, which was virtually unchanged since the film was shot there 25 years earlier. Víctor Erice in Madrid is a 48-minute interview with the director conducted in 2000 by filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, who directed a segment Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet, a compilation film for which Erice also directed a segment. In addition, there are new video interviews with Case Western Reserve professor Linda Ehrlich, author of The Cinema of Víctor Erice: An Open Window (16 min.), and actor Fernando Fernán Gómez (12 min.).|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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