Many Spanish films dealing with the social and psychological traumas caused by the Civil War have followed the approach of what perhaps remains the finest of its kind, Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive. A haunting, poetic and allegorical film on innocence, illusion and isolation, Erice’s masterpiece is set in a remote Castillian village in 1940, just after the end of the Civil War. Although the village has been spared the destruction of battle, the after-effects of war are still felt and the locals buckle under Franco’s repression. Erice concentrates on the experiences of 8-year-old Ana (a remarkable performance by Ana Torrent), whose father tends a beehive and whose mother shares a dream world with an imaginary lover. After watching James Whale’s classic Frankenstein in a travelling cinema, Ana becomes fascinated by the figure of the monster played by Boris Karloff, and returns daily to the old house where her sister says he can be found. Eventually, an escaped convict becomes a surrogate for the monster, but though he is killed, Ana continues to cling to the idea that the monster’s spirit still exists. No brief synopsis could do justice to this delicate mood piece, which dispenses with plot and works its spell through intricate patterns of sound and image.
1973. English subtitles. Colour. 98 mins.