Monday, April 16, 2007
I've not seen a better film about childhood, about the great magical density of the world as seen through the mind of a young child. The Spirit of the Beehive explores the way "growing up" entails limiting our consciousness. The world makes absolutely no sense at all until we learn to ignore much of it and focus narrowly on the banal. Each of us gains functionality in this mini-Fall from Paradise and into the mundane, but the loss is incalculable.
In Fascist Spain, Young Ana lives in an enormous manse with her distant parents. Her mother writes long and passionate letters to an absent lover. Her father takes care of bees and writes in his journal. Otherwise Ana and her older sister are left to their own devices to explore a desiccated countryside and decrepit village where everyone busily goes about their assigned roles.
The children see Frankenstein at a movie house in town. Ana asks her sister why the monster killed the little girl, and why the villagers killed the monster. Her sister says that the monster did not die, and that if she knows how to call him its spirit will come to her. Ana invokes the spirit of Frankenstein's monster with surprising results.
The father writes about perturbances in his beehive; Frankenstein's creature is such a perturbance to the villagers in the film, and so is a wounded resistance fighter Ana befriends. Both meet similar fates. There is an implied critique of Fascism mixed in with the magical reality of Ana's world. Ana's imaginativeness and her individuality make her a potential perturbance as well.
There is little dialogue in The Spirit of the Beehive, which works subtly and powerfully on psychological and political levels. Mysterious moments of eerie resonance move the plot forward to a strange climax.* I watched it bombed out of my gourd and thought it was magnificent. I'll wait a few months and watch it again to double-check, but this may be one of the greatest films I've seen. Definitely an influence on del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. Ana Torrent's performance is hands-down the greatest child's performance I've seen.
*I tried to come up with an example of what I'm talking about here--perhaps Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man? Or Olivier Messiaen's grand symphonic piece Eclairs sur l'au dela (Illuminations of the Beyond) with its curious nebulous chords pulling the listener along...