Review: El Espíritu De La Colmena (The Spirit Of The Beehive, 1973)


Spain is pretty messed up, well all the films I’ve seen from Spain have been pretty messed up that is!

Screenplay By: Victor Erice, Francisco J. Querejeta & Ángel Fernández Santos
Directed By: Victor Erice

I know many people who complain about the pacing of Terrence Malick’s film. I wonder how those people would react to El Espíritu De La Colmena. It’s not as long as Malick likes his pictures to be, but it is just as glacially paced. The eternally slow pace is both a blessing and a curse to the film. The pace helps to add to the atmosphere and mood, it gives you plenty of time to soak in what you are seeing on the screen. But, the slow pacing also tries to cover up for a razor thin story. El Espíritu De La Colmena is a movie where thought is put before story, but throughout there are jumps in the story and moments in the story that don’t exactly add up. Most of them can be argued away through the pacing and the use of fantasy elements, but there are some that stick out and don’t gel with the rest of the picture. If you are someone who doesn’t know the history of Spain from 1940 to the 1970’s then a lot of the images and allusions to Spanish politics will fail to reach you.

As someone who is not as immersed in Spanish history as I am other parts of the world, I took El Espíritu De La Colmena as more of a tale of loneliness and isolation. The acting of all four family members, of which Ana Torrent as Ana stands out, was brilliant in conveying loneliness. The cinematography was gorgeous, full of shots of empty space to signify the emptiness in the lives of the family and their lack of connection to the rest of the world. The framing also helped to add to the loneliness. There is one shot in particular of the dad standing on the terrace listening to Frankenstein. He is obscured by the stained glass door, and he can hear the words of Frankenstein, but he is cut off from seeing it and therefore he is disconnected from what is happening around him.

I was particularly fond of the inclusion of Frankenstein as the movie within a movie. It was a nice touch, and in this setting a movie is different than how we perceive it. It’s not just a movie to this town, it’s an event, a communal gathering. Movies are this town’s only chance for escape from the banality of life and the harshness of the Civil War they have just finished. I was also a fan of the allegory of the mushroom hunt. I took the mushrooms to be a statement on misjudging. Ana is shown that something can be extremely pretty on the outside, but harbor great evil on the inside. Not only does this work with the Frankenstein story point, but it ties into the worlds view of Spain as well.

The movie slows to a stop when the focus is off of the two little girls. The story between the parents isn’t bad or a major issue, but El Espíritu De La Colmena belongs to those two little girls, Ana more than Isabel, and when the focus is on the parents alone for an extended period of time the movie feels like it is losing its way.

Despite a few bumps along the way, El Espíritu De La Colmena is a great experience. It is one of those movies that isn’t for everyone and people who are not fans of slowly paced films may want to give it a pass. But it is a movie that has something to say, whether you take it as a Franco allegory or a look at loneliness and isolation, and looks gorgeous while saying it. I do recommend El Espíritu De La Colmena, just be wary of the poisonous mushrooms.




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