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Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la Colmena) (PG)



Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailer; Stills gallery; Trailer reel.

RELEASED as part of the 17th London Film Festival, Victor Erice's masterpiece is a stark portrait of life in 1940s Spain, just after the fascist takeover by General Franco.

The story revolves around the characters of Isabel (Isabel Telleria) and Ana (Ana Torrent), two children who live in a large, isolated, country house, with their parents, Fernando (Fernando Fernan Gomez) and Teresa (Teresa Gimpera).

Fernando and Teresa, struggling to come to terms with what has become of their country now that it is in the grip of dictator, are withdrawn, backward-looking and self-absorbed, and rarely communicate with each other or their offspring.

Instead the confused and seemingly shell-shocked Fernando absorbs himself in his beehives, while his beautiful but remote wife writes nostalgic letters, that may never be read, to an adopted child who has been re-settled in another country.

Meanwhile, for the over-imaginative Isabel and Ana life is an equally unfathomable mystery, in which spirits roam the land befriending good children and punishing the bad.

And so life goes on…until a fugitive republican soldier enters the scene and triggers a chain of events that brings parents and children back together.

Although Spirit of the Beehive, initially released in 1974, was Victor Erice's first feature film, it is a hugely accomplished, atmospheric and profound piece of work.

Using the bleak sienna-toned countryside of the Castilian plateau as his ground, Erice directs with a deliberately slow hand, allowing his camera to linger long and hard on the distant horizon of the featureless landscape or the beautifully innocent faces of the two girls.

This simple, economic technique combined with the low-profile characters and the sparse dialogue, which barely rises above a whisper, serves to conjure up a ghostly demi-world through which the protagonists, the alienated adults in particular, move in silent, dumb confusion.

Altogether a telling commentary on a momentous period of Spanish history.

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