Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Spirit of the Beehive

Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive is an interesting movie, but not one that fully connected with me. It's about two young sisters, Ana (Ana Torrent) and Isabel (Isabel Telleria), and their parents, in the post civil war Spanish countryside, somewhere around 1940. The whole town goes to see a traveling exhibition of the classic Frankenstein with Boris Karloff. The younger Ana is unable to sleep much that night, but it's more because she's curious about this creature than she is frightened. She also takes as gospel her sister insisting that Frankenstein doesn't really kill the little girl by the river, everything in movies is fake, and that was just a body Frankenstein took for a bit, he's actually a spirit that you can talk to if you close your eyes and say "It's me, Ana."

It's an interesting look into sibling relationships, as even though there's not but a couple of years between the sisters, Ana looks to Isabel as though she knows all the answers. It doesn't help that Isabel is a mischievous, slightly malicious, young girl. Ana is innocent and open to the spiritual possibilities of seeing and feeling spirits. She wants to talk to Frankenstein, with no hesitation or trepidation. Young Ana Torrent's dark brown eyes lend her a certain earnestness and seriousness that makes her feel like the more mature, deeper, person, even as she's taken in by her sister's flights of fancy.

It's a gorgeous movie to look at, full of open countryside, sun bathed fields, honey colored interiors, and beautifully shot contrasts of light and shadow. But I also felt a certain distance from everything, which may or may not have been intentional. The family is never shown together, even when they're all around the dinner table, each is only shown in single shots, visually showing us their isolation from one another. And there's a distracted, passionless, almost hypnotized quality to the performances. I can't imagine the distance I felt was unintentional, but I didn't like it. The movie has a dream like quality I enjoyed up to a point, but ultimately I felt like I was chasing smoke, I could never get my hands around anything.

But the movie is often called the greatest Spanish movie ever made, so I'm sure I'll give it another go some day.

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