Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spirit of the Beehive (Repertory Release)

Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) has an upcoming run at Film Forum. (This will be our last Film Forum-related post for a while, I think.)

Spirit of the Beehive, which apparently has a much better reputation in Europe than here (this excellent Derek Malcolm piece was written on the occasion in The Guardian's 100 best films of the 10th Century), gets childhood right in a lot of important ways, which is something relatively rare and exciting for a movie to do. For one thing, its nostalgia is largely implied rather than laid on. The opening sequence, for instance, of a print of Frankenstein being delivered to a village, and the public screening in a town building (it takes place in rural Spain in 1940), is nicely underplayed—the process of the ritual is laid out, and Erice's faith in the authenticity of his material works much better than the soppy romanticism of, say, the excruciating Electric Shadows (to name a recent cinematic take on public screenings in rural outposts). Neither are the kids in the movie particularly precocious or savvy, in relieving contrast to the preternaturally savvy moppets that dominate most movies about childhood.
And although the young sisters Ana and Isabel are the primary focus of the film and points of identification for the audience, Erice also grants his audience the privilege of insight into the secret lives of their parents. Father's beekeeping and mother's romantic life are vital elements of the movie, not just because the fill out the emotional life of the family but because the knowledge of what children don't know is vital to the movie's simultaneously romantic and reflective look at the past. (There's one great moment when Ana is looking silently at her father's glass beehive, a moment that beautifully sums up what she can and can't grasp about her dad's inner life.)
Spirit of the Beehive, like Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence and much of Miyazaki's work, is interested in the strangeness of childhood, of the potential for both fright and wonder at the world's as-yet-undiscovered corners. Erice and cinematographer Luis Cuadrad create some lovely moments—most strikingly, Ana watching Isabel and friends playing around a fire in the yard at dusk, jumping through it again and again. It's a beautiful shot, and exemplifies yet another of the kid-movie traps that Spirit of the Beehive avoids—looking back at childhood, it doesn't pretend to understand or explain it.

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