Monday, July 13, 2020

Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive

Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) invents its own cinematic version of magical realism. In this case the stylization takes the form of shots that seem to decompose or transform right before the viewer’s eyes. There’s a recurring image of a car disappearing down a winding road counterpoised to a reverse motion of the tracks widening with a train’s arrival. The showing of Frankenstein in a rural Castillan movie house sets the tone of impending threat. What poses as entertainment is a potential nightmare and terror lurks behind the beautifully shot scenes that run through the film. Ana Torrent, the child actress who would  later appear in Carlos Saura's Cria Cuevos (1976), plays a similar role in this earlier film—as a witness. In both movies, childhood is an invidious terrain like the well into which Ana recurrently stares, haunted and always forbidding. Ana’s fears are dismissed by her older sister Isabel (Isabel Telleria), who plays dead and then like Frankenstein comes back to life. The girls’s mother Teresa (Teresa Gimpera) is almost entirely absent with the exception of a brief sequence in which she’s writing and narrating a letter to a lover. The father, Fernando (Fernando Fernan Gomez) is a beekeeper who diarizes the behavior of his swarm. Dr. Frankenstein’s contravention is to play god, but Fernando is a curious mixture since he’s an observer of nature as well as a scientist himself, toying with his own mysterious invention. Erice’s film was made during the end of the Franco era. It dramatizes the tyranny of silence and absence. Fernando’s swarm of bees represent yet another form of social organization that’s totally impervious to  human life.

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