The Spirit of the Beehive: Frankenstein and Franco

After a brief hiatus (sorry all, went up to Massachusetts for a few days and just started a new job, so I've been a bit busy), we're back to business with the 1973 Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive.  Considered by Spaniards (and most of the rest of the world) to be a classic, this film clocks in at #226 on the TSPDT list.

This is the story of Ana, a little girl growing up in post-civil war Spain (specifically, the 1940s).  The film Frankenstein is played in her small village, and she becomes very interested in the character of the Creature.  Her older sister Isabel tells her that if she speaks to him, he will answer her.

She lives with her father, mother, and sister -- they're not so much dysfunctional as they are wholly detached from one another.  The mother spends her time writing letters to an old lover, and her (much older) father is obsessed with his beekeeping.

Isabel takes Ana to an abandoned sheepfold and tells her that the Creature from Frankenstein lives there.  But when Ana goes back later to investigate, she finds a fugitive republican soldier hiding there.  She is kind to him, and gives him food to eat and her father's pocket watch.  But after she leaves, he is discovered and shot.

When Ana returns looking for the soldier, she sees the blood and knows that he is dead.  Her father produces the watch, and she can tell that he knows that she helped the soldier.  Panicked, she runs away into the forest.  She is found the next day in a state of shock, refusing to talk to anyone.  Her mother is assured that she will soon forget the traumatic events, and at the end of the film we see Ana standing in front of the window with her eyes closed, calling to her Creature.

Random Musings:

  • I love that the kids bring their own chairs to the movie screening.  And I appreciate them showing how much a film was a very special treat back then, especially for kids growing up in a small town.  It warms the cockles of my film geek heart.

  • Christ I don't like bees.  Bleh.  I realize this movie is called The Spirit of the Beehive, but I wasn't expecting literal bees.  Make them go away.

  • It's weird to hear Frankenstein dubbed.  Does Spain still dub their foreign films?  I know Germany does, and Luxembourg doesn't (for the most part), but I have no intel on Spain.

  • I love how they use Frankenstein in this movie -- especially the scene with the little girl, which in my opinion is the most unsettling, beautiful moment of that film.

  • Ana is easily one of the most beautiful children I've ever seen.  Seriously, so adorable.

  • I like how Ana is incredibly innocent (she believes that the little girl and the monster in the movie really died), and her older sister is cynical and tells her that the movie is fake, then lies to her about the Creature.  I think it's significant for the political climate of Spain in the 1940s: the idealistic younger generation vs the deceitful, cynical older generation.  Maybe.

  • OK, seriously?  I'm 30 minutes into the film and I just realized that these characters are a family.  Also, not judging, but the dad looks like 20 years older than the mom.  That's kind of unusual.

  • Interesting song...first they're singing about basic arithmetic, then it turns into a song of devotion to God.  Only in Spain.

  • So..."Don Juan", the figure they use in the classroom to teach little kids basic anatomy, totally has a 70s porn star moustache.  It's the little things that make me happy.  Also, they're adding vital organs to Don Jose's body, which strikes me as an allusion to Frankenstein.  And now it seems really obvious.

  • Ana is clearly a very impressionable little girl, so why does Isabel purposely dick with her head?  I mean, I get that she's an older sister and that's pretty much her job, but still.

  • I really like the locations they used for this film.  Very barren and desolate.  It gives the film a feeling of melancholy that I think really works.  Such beautiful landscapes.  Their location scout deserves a cookie.

  • Just noticing that little Ana has her ears pierced.  Would that have been common in Spain back in the 40s?

  • Aw, I kind of love that Ana and Isabel are bonding with their dad over fungus.  It's actually really cute.

  • I love the visual of the two little girls on the train tracks.

  • I wrote in my review of Wings of Desire that it probably meant a lot more to Germans than it would for anyone else.  I kind of feel the same thing about this movie and Spaniards...I can just see it being very meaningful for them.

  • OMG, Isabel just got bitten by a cat and used the blood as lipstick.  That's kind of a disturbing image.

  • This really is a great performance by such a young little actress.  Ana is so natural, and a joy to watch.  It's so special when you can find quality child actors.

  • I love the design of the windows with the sun pouring through them...they look like honeycomb and it's really cool.

  • I really like the parallel to Frankenstein, with the pure, innocent girl showing kindness to the man who has become a pariah.  And in both instances, the misunderstood soul is hunted and killed by society.  

  • I like that they didn't bother to fix Ana's stockings between takes...there's something so endearing and realistic about a little girl with wrinkles in her stockings by the ankles.

This film may not have grabbed me emotionally, but it has a beautiful mood to it.  And the cinematography is stunning, everything is unique and interesting to look at.  There really is very little driving action in this film.  It meanders and taking its time, trading in a tightly plotted story for a broader reflection on life in post-war Spain.  I think that it does a lovely job of capturing the essence of the time, and there are a lot of emotions and criticisms regarding the Franco regime that lie just below the surface.  I found Ana captivating, and it was rewarding to watch her navigate her way through her world.  Definitely a worthwhile viewing experience, if a little slow at times.

Thanks for reading, and come back next time for The Princess Bride!

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Anonymous said...

Really want to see this one!

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