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The Spirit of the Beehive (Criterion Collection)

Fernando Fernán Gómez , Teresa Gimpera , Víctor Erice , Carlos Rodríguez    Unrated   DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Victor Erice's hauntingly beautiful The Spirit of the Beehive features one of the most unforgettable child performances in the history of cinema. Hailed as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s, Erice's visually elegant "poem of awakening" takes place in a small Castilian village in the early 1940s, as echoes of the Spanish Civil Wart can still be heard throughout the countryside. It is here, in this richly rural atmosphere, that six-year-old Ana (played by six-year-old Ana Torrent) is introduced to alternate world of myth and imagination when she attends a town-hall showing of James Whale's Frankenstein, an experience that forever alters young Ana's perception of the world around her... and her ability to mold reality to her own imaginative purposes. Is she using her imagination to escape what is essentially a bleak reality, or is she protecting herself with an inner world of innocence, to counter the darker worldview of her slightly older sister Isabel? While her emotionally distant parents go about their mundane daily affairs, Ana's world becomes the film's mesmerizing focus, and The Spirit of the Beehive unfolds as an enigmatic yet totally captivating study of childhood unfettered by the strictures of reason. In Erice's capable hands, young Ana Torrent really isn't performing at all; her presence on screen is so natural, and so deeply expressive, that you almost feel as if she's living in the story being told--a story that retains its mystery and beauty in equal measure, full of visual symbolism and metaphor (including the title, which yields multiple meanings), yet never self-consciously "arty" or artificial. Simply put, this is one of the timeless masterpieces of cinema, produced at a time when Franco's repressive dictatorship was finally giving way to greater freedoms of expression. No survey of international cinema is complete without at least one viewing of this uniquely moving film. --Jeff Shannon

On the DVDs
Disc 1 presents a new, restored high-definition digital transfer of The Spirit of the Beehive, with a new and improved English subtitle translation. The supplements on Disc 2 are thoroughly fascinating, beginning with "The Footprints of a Spirit," a very well-made documentary about the making of the film, combining present-day (2006) visits to the film's original locations along with interviews with director Victor Erice, producer Elías Querejeta, coscreenwriter Ángel Fernández Santos, and actress Ana Torrent (now a beautiful 40-year-old veteran of many Spanish films). "Victor Erice in Madrid" is an extensive and thought-provoking interview, conducted by Japanese filmmaker Hideyuki Miyaoka, in which Erice discusses his films, and specifically The Spirit of the Beehive, including his observation that the film's shot of young Ana Torrent watching Frankenstein for the first time (a real-life reaction filmed with documentary realism) represents "the most important moment I have ever captured on film." Two other 2006 interviews round out the supplements: One with the great Spanish actor Fernando Fernán Gómez (who describes how he "couldn't understand a word" of the Beehive screenplay, but played the role of Ana's father because he needed the work), and another with scholar Linda C. Ehrlich, who astutely discusses the film's visual qualities (including its warm color palette and the influence of Vermeer's paintings on Erice's sunlit interiors), the significance of Frankenstein to the story, and the qualities that made The Spirit of the Beehive both timely (in terms of its sociopolitical context) and timeless. The accompanying booklet contains an informative essay on the lasting influence of Erice's film, including the startling revelation that Erice (as of 2006) had directed only two more feature-length films (El Sur and the documentary Dream of Light) since The Spirit of the Beehive was released in 1973. --Jeff Shannon

Product Description

Criterion is proud to present Víctor Erice’s spellbinding The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena), widely regarded as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s. In a small Castilian village in 1940, in the wake of the country's devastating civil war, six-year-old Ana attends a traveling movie show of Frankenstein and becomes possessed by the memory of it. Produced as Franco’s long regime was nearing its end, The Spirit of the Beehive is a bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life and one of the most visually arresting movies ever made.

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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A silent scream against tyranny. April 22 2002
Format:VHS Tape
'Spirit Of The Beehive', which begins 'Once upon a time...', uses children's drawings in its opening credits, anticipating the film's key scenes, spaces and motifs. This alerts us to the child's-eye view the film will largely take, focusing on two young sisters in s small Spanish village, Segovia, in 1940. They live in a vast, decaying mansion with their parents (a solitary, obsessive beekeeper, and a mother dreaming of her exiled lover), and servants. When James Whale's 'Frankenstein' is shown in the village hall, the younger sister, Ana, is particularly haunted by the scene in which the monster plays with a little girl by the side of a lake, throwing floating daisies onto the water. Her sister tells her that the monster didn't die in the film, but that his spirit lurks around an nearby abandoned outhouse, beside a well in an arid plain. Spotting a large footstep in the area, Ana prepares herself to meet the spirit.
Victor Erice's film, often conidered the greatest ever made in Spain, is at once ascetic and sensual. It is ascetic in its evocation of a depleted Spain, one year after the bloody trauma of the Civil War, a place heavy with silences and suppressed emotions, parched, peeling buildings surrounded by dusty streets and outlying areas as dully stagnant as this new way of life, former granduer a dessicated memory. The film is sensual in the way this world is seen, coloured and re-imagined by the two young heroines, especially intense, dark, bow-legged Ana. The house they live in, like the beehive their father tends (grilled like a honeycomb, glowing with an amber light), is a silent, claustrophobic, ill-lit mansion, stripped of its personal decor, the kind of haunted house pregnant with silent screasm we find in late Bergman (e.g. 'Cries and Whispers').
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing movie. Price? Not so much Jan. 7 2008
Format:DVD
I recently saw this on campus at the University of Toronto. There was standing room only for a thirty-five year old film. Truly fabulous.

I decided that I had to own it, which is saying a lot. I have only a handful of movies. But it's Amazon CA cost is almost twice the cost of the U.S. version--$47 CDN versus $24USD. I'm a patriotic Canadian, but I hate being played for a fool.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable Dec 24 2001
Format:VHS Tape
There is so much to recommend in "Spirit of the Beehive" that it is hard for a reviewer to know where to begin. As other reviewers have pointed out, the cinematography and the performance delivered by the lead actress are among the best ever filmed. I also enjoyed the musical score, which was largely delivered with a single woodwind, but its simplicity only enhanced its impact. Some viewers may find it difficult to watch in part because of its almost oppressive atmosphere and in part because little is overtly explained about the characters or their situation. The latter is because it is a portrayal of life under the rule of Franco, filmed in 1973 while Franco was still alive. The vaugeness helped keep the censors from blacklisting the film, but it looses none of its power despite its caution. In watching this film, one is drawn into the lonely plight of the main character, and its only through great effort that a viewer can keep from reaching out to hold her. Descriptions cannot do it justice, however. I can only recommned that you see it, and then only when you are in a mood where your mind can be open and your heart needs touching.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb performance Feb. 20 2001
Format:VHS Tape
The other reviewers have prety much covered the angles to this story so there is not much to add. I'd just like to center on Anna. Both child actresses are very good but Anna Torrent is unforgetable. The capturing of the imagination of two children is a profound piece of work as accomplished by the director. Take a look at the cover of little Anna, those eyes , once you've seen the movie Anna will be with you forever, and that is a good thing. We remember the innocence of youth and most of us would love to capture the essence of that purity. A conscienceness that is unpolluted. Such was the case with Anna until she sees a haunting image that moves her so as to seek in her own imagination that image that so impressed her. As adults we do the same. The images burned in our conscienceness is what possess us to seek everything we desire. Just like little Anna we imagine what we want. The movie is very good and unique. When Anna whispers to her sister on screen you want to whisper back to her, I love you Anna. I left this movie on after viewing it wondering what ever became of Anna Torrent. I can still hear Anna whispering her innocent questions. I still wonder about Anna, I wonder if she maintained her childhood innocence, I can still here her whispering, she is burned forever in my mind. You go away from the movie remembering your own childhood, and it seems so long ago, until you here Anna whispering that it wasn't that long ago when questions in the dark were part of going to bed. Thanks for the memories Anna. I think young children, those not impressioned yet, would really like this story. Highly recommended for those young at heart, who remember or want to remember their youth. It transcends language barriers, a parent can read the dialogue but a child knows.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spirit of the Beehive Dec 31 1999
Format:VHS Tape
This is, without question, the most stunning film about a child's world ever made & one of the few to realize what a cruel place childhood is. It's also a stunning allegory about Franco's Spain, set in a village where an entire generation seems to have disappeared. Hope I haven't made this sound too dreary -- this is one of the most transcendent film experiences you are ever likely to have & I don't think there's another film I know that I can recommend to absolutely ANYONE as wholeheartedly. Ana Torent's performance is of a depth and complexity NO child should be able to attain. If you have one, this film will break your heart.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars El Espiritu de la Lento
This movie is trying to convey something deep and I believe its hidden in there somewhere amongst the symbolism and seemingly unconnected dream-like sequences. Read more
Published on April 12 2003 by M. Swinney
5.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere in Castille about 1943.......
The opening scenes present each character in their private world. Laura, the mother, is writing a letter to a lover who may or not be merely imagined. This is her fiction. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2003 by Doug Anderson
2.0 out of 5 stars Creeped out of my mind
I viewed this movie in my Honors Spanish III class and was incredibly disturbed by this movie. The whole entire time that I watched it, I was creeped out and felt very eerie. Read more
Published on May 23 2001 by Rachel
5.0 out of 5 stars A little girl's world
childhood is very difficult for adults to recapture on film or in books.But the poet victore erice has created a world of imaginary images and quiet observations that linger in... Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2001 by chantelle
5.0 out of 5 stars No dialog needed...
This is, first of all, an amazing and profound movie. I think that the previous reviews have said enough about those facts, so I will just make one point: no matter what language... Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2000 by leigh
5.0 out of 5 stars Just close your eyes to dream
IF you haven't met the films of spaniard director Víctor Erice, believe me, you have to see them . It's poetry made images. Read more
Published on Dec 8 1999 by DavidVillanuevaQuílez
5.0 out of 5 stars A surreal journey into a child's world.
Erice's vision of Spain under the Franco regime is spellbindingly brilliant. The cinematography by Luis Cuadrado stands beside the works of Sven Nykvist, Nestor Almendros, Gabriel... Read more
Published on Nov. 30 1998
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