Sunday, July 19, 2009
Day 179: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) - Rank 4.5/5
One of the fun things about the history of cinema is seeing how storytelling evolves as one generation influences the next. Quentin Tarantino was obviously influenced by Sergio Leone as "Kill Bill" reflects, and Leone was clearly influenced by John Ford to a fair degree as the sweeping epic "Once Upon a Time in the West" indicates. With "The Spirit of the Beehive," writer/director Victor Erice seems to be telling a semi-biopic about the first film to impact him as a youth: "Frankenstein."
Set in a small, Spanish village at the height of the country's civil war, the story is an exercise in youthful innocence, centered around a young girl named Ana (perfectly casting for Ana Torrent). Ana, a typical, gullible youth, watches a screening of "Frankenstein" at her village, and rather than being afraid of the monster, she wishes to know if he is real and ponders over his motives for killing the little girl in the film. Her sister teases her and tells her that the monster is real, that his spirit resides in an abandoned farmhouse and it can be summoned to appear by simply stating: "It's me." Much of the film follows Ana as she gains the courage to beckon the monster and when she does, there is an individual in the farmhouse - a soldier fleeing from Franco's men. But to Ana, he's the creature in need of caring and a friend.
The film is absolutely gorgeous and shot in a ponderous and hypnotic manner, reminiscent of "Picnic at Hanging Rock," for there's always an atmosphere of dread beneath the beautiful storyline and direction. Erice chose a warm, amber-colored theme for his settings - a style reminiscent of the honeycombs that Ana's father attends to. The shot below is a prime example.
Now as I said before, this film helps you trace the influence of one film through multiple generations. The influence of Whale on Erice is obvious, as it should be perfectly evident that this movie had a profound impact on writer/director Guillermo Del Toro (especially if you've ever seen "Pan's Labyrinth" or "The Devil's Backbone"). A story centered around an innocent child, the presence of a monster that is fueled by the child's imagination, disengaged parents, the Spanish civil war backdrop - all the common elements are there. Yet each director tells different stories of a child's innocence that are both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Watch the Trailer