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
Criterion is proud to present Víctor Erices 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 Francos long regime was nearing its end, The Spirit of the Beehive is a bewitching portrait of a childs haunted inner life and one of the most visually arresting movies ever made.