The Spirit of the Beehive

name = The Spirit of the Beehive

image_size =
caption = Film poster
size =
director = Víctor Erice
producer = Elías Querejeta
writer = Screenplay: Víctor Erice Ángel Fernández Santos Francisco J. Querejeta Story: Víctor Erice
Ángel Fernández Santos
starring = Fernando Fernán Gómez Teresa Gimpera Ana Torrent Isabel Tellería
music = Luis de Pablo
cinematography = Luis Cuadrado
edited = Pablo González del Amo
distributor = Bocaccio Distribución
released = Spain: October 8 1973 United States: September 23 1976
country = Spain
language = Spanish
runtime = 97 minutes
amg_id = 1:111360
imdb_id = 0070040|

"The Spirit of the Beehive" (Spanish: "El espíritu de la colmena") (1973) is a quiet, enigmatic drama film featuring a very young child in the leading role. [imdb title| id=0070040.] It is the directorial debut of Victor Erice, and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema. [Curran, Daniel, ed. "Foreign Films," film review and analysis of "The Spirit of the Beehive," page 161-2, 1989. Evanston, Illinois: Cinebooks. ISBN 0-933997-22-1.] Made during the last few years of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, and set in 1940, the film subtly criticizes post-civil war Spain. It is, however, far more memorable for its sympathetic portrayal of a young child's world, and for Ana Torrent's presence.

"The Spirit of the Beehive" is considered visually brilliant despite the fact that the cinematographer, Luis Cuadrado, was going blind during filming. It is also notable for its references to "Frankenstein", even featuring sections of the film in the narrative.


The main character is six-year-old Ana, a shy little girl who lives in an isolated Spanish village with her parents and her older sister, Isabel. The year is 1940, and the civil war has just ended with the francoist victory over the Republic. Her aging father spends most of his time tending to and writing about his beehives; her much younger mother absorbs herself in daydreams about a distant lover, to whom she writes long letters. Ana's closest companion is Isabel, who loves her but cannot resist playing on her little sister's gullibility.

At the beginning of the film, a mobile cinema brings "Frankenstein" to town and the two sisters go see it. Ana finds the film more interesting than frightening, particularly the scenes where the monster plays gently with a little girl, then apparently kills her. She asks her sister, "Why did he kill her, and why did they kill him later?" Isabel tells her that the monster didn't kill the girl and isn't really dead. She says he is like a spirit, and Ana can summon him if she closes her eyes and thinks: "It's me, Ana". These words make a profound impression on the little girl.

Ana's fascination with the story increases when Isabel takes her to an abandoned sheepfold which she claims is the monster's house. Ana returns alone many times to look for him but finds only a large footprint. One day, Isabel plays a cruel trick -- she screams from a distant part of the house, and when Ana comes to investigate, she lies perfectly still on the floor, pretending to be dead. Afterwards, Ana finally finds the courage to close her eyes and summon the monster with the words "It's me, Ana". As she does, a fugitive republican soldier leaps from a passing train and limps to the sheepfold to hide.Ana finds the soldier hiding in the sheepfold and concludes that the creature has answered her summons. Instead of running away in terror, she protects him; she feeds him and even brings him her father's coat and watch. This odd, wordless friendship ends abruptly when the francoist police come in the night, find the republican soldier and shoot him. When Ana next goes to visit him, she finds him gone and fresh blood on the ground. Her father confronts her as she gazes at the blood and, deeply shaken, she runs away.

While she is wandering the woods alone that night, she has a vision of the monster; he gazes sadly at her, then, as in the 1931 film, kneels beside her as she looks down into water. Although her parents find her physically unharmed the next morning, she withdraws from them, refusing to speak or leave her bed. The doctor, however, assures her mother that she will gradually forget the shock she's just experienced. At the end of the film, Ana stands alone by her bedroom window, again making her silent call to the monster.


* Fernando Fernán Gómez as Fernando
* Teresa Gimpera as Teresa
* Ana Torrent as Ana
* Isabel Tellería as Isabel
* Ketty de la Cámara as Milagros, la criada
* Estanis González as Guardia civil
* José Villasante as The Frankenstein Monster
* Juan Margallo as The Fugitive
* Laly Soldevila as Doña Lucía, the teacher
* Miguel Picazo as the Doctor

Critical reception

When the film was re-released in the United States in early 2007, A.O. Scott, film critic for "The New York Times," reviewed the film and lauded the direction of the drama, writing, "The story that emerges from [Erice's] lovely, lovingly considered images is at once lucid and enigmatic, poised between adult longing and childlike eagerness, sorrowful knowledge and startled innocence. [ [ Scott, A.O.] "The New York Times," film review, January 27, 2006. Last accessed: December 18, 2007.]

Film critic Dan Callahan praised the film's cinematography, story, direction and acting. He wrote, "Every magic hour, light-drenched image in Victor Erice's "The Spirit of the Beehive" is filled with mysterious dread...There's something voluptuous about the cinematography, and this suits the sense of emerging sexuality in the girls, especially in the scene where Isabel speculatively paints her lips with blood from her own finger... [and] Torrent, with her severe, beautiful little face, provides an eerily unflappable presence to center the film. The one time she smiles, it's like a small miracle, a glimpse of grace amid the uneasiness of black cats, hurtling black trains, devouring fire and poisonous mushrooms. These signs of dismay haunt the movie." [ [ Callahan, Dan] . "Slant," film review, 2006. Last accessed: December 23, 2007.]

Currently, the film has a 100% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on seventeen reviews. [ [ "The Spirit of the Beehive"] at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: December 23, 2007.]


* San Sebastián International Film Festival: Golden Seashell, Victor Erice; 1973.
* Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain: CEC Award; Best Film; Best Actor, Fernando Fernán Gómez; Best Director, Víctor Erice; 1974.
* Fotogramas de Plata, Madrid, Spain: Best Spanish Movie Performer, Ana Torrent; 1974.
* Association of Latin Entertainment Critics: Premios ACE, Cinema, Best Actress, Ana Torrent; Cinema, Best Director, Víctor Erice; 1977.


External links

* [ "The Spirit of the Beehive"] essay at Criterion Collection by Paul Julian Smith

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