The Spirit of the Beehive - DVD

The Spirit of the Beehive

Country: Spain
Release Date: October 8, 1973
Genre(s): Fantasy / Drama
Director: Víctor Erice
Cast: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera, Ana Torrent, Isabel Tellería …
Awards: Chicago International Film Festival: Silver Hugo;Cinema Writers Circle Awards:Best Film; Fotogramas de Plata: Best Spanish Movie Performer: Ana Torrent;Premios ACE: Cinema - Best Actress: Ana Torrent; Cinema - Best Director: Víctor Erice; San Sebastián International Film Festival: Golden Seashell: Víctor Erice

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The Spirit of the Beehive

The Spirit of the Beehive - sceneThe Spirit of the Beehive (Spanish: El espíritu de la colmena) is a 1973 Spanish drama film directed by Victor Erice. The film was Erice’s debut and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema. Made during the last few years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and set in 1940, the film subtly criticises post-civil war Spain.

The film focuses on the young girl Ana and her fascination with the 1931 American horror film Frankenstein, as well as exploring her family life and schooling. The film has been called a “bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life”.


In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Ana, a sensitive seven-year-old girl in a rural Spanish hamlet is traumatized after a traveling projectionist screens a print of James Whale’s 1931 “Frankenstein” for the village. The youngster is profoundly disturbed by the scenes in which the monster murders the little girl and is later killed himself by the villagers. She questions her sister about the profundities of life and death and believes her older sibling when she tells her that the monster is not dead, but exists as a spirit inhabiting a nearby barn. When a Loyalist soldier, a fugitive from Franco’s victorious army, hides out in the barn, Ana crosses from reality into a fantasy world of her own.


Data sheet

Directed by: Víctor Erice
Produced by: Elías Querejeta
Written by: Víctor Erice, Ángel Fernández Santos and Francisco J. Querejeta
Cast: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera, Ana Torrent, Isabel Tellería …
Music by: Luis de Pablo
Cinematography: Luis Cuadrado
Release date: October 8, 1973
Running time: 97 minutes
Country: Spain
Language: Spanish

Amazon’s  Reviews

Victor Erice’s hauntingly beautiful The Spirit of the Beehive features one of the most unforgettable child performances in the history of cinema. Hailed as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s, Erice’s visually elegant “poem of awakening” takes place in a small Castilian village in the early 1940s, as echoes of the Spanish Civil Wart can still be heard throughout the countryside. It is here, in this richly rural atmosphere, that six-year-old Ana (played by six-year-old Ana Torrent) is introduced to alternate world of myth and imagination when she attends a town-hall showing of James Whale’s Frankenstein, an experience that forever alters young Ana’s perception of the world around her… and her ability to mold reality to her own imaginative purposes. Is she using her imagination to escape what is essentially a bleak reality, or is she protecting herself with an inner world of innocence, to counter the darker worldview of her slightly older sister Isabel? While her emotionally distant parents go about their mundane daily affairs, Ana’s world becomes the film’s mesmerizing focus, and The Spirit of the Beehive unfolds as an enigmatic yet totally captivating study of childhood unfettered by the strictures of reason. In Erice’s capable hands, young Ana Torrent really isn’t performing at all; her presence on screen is so natural, and so deeply expressive, that you almost feel as if she’s living in the story being told–a story that retains its mystery and beauty in equal measure, full of visual symbolism and metaphor (including the title, which yields multiple meanings), yet never self-consciously “arty” or artificial. Simply put, this is one of the timeless masterpieces of cinema, produced at a time when Franco’s repressive dictatorship was finally giving way to greater freedoms of expression. No survey of international cinema is complete without at least one viewing of this uniquely moving film. –Jeff Shannon

On the DVDs
Disc 1 presents a new, restored high-definition digital transfer of The Spirit of the Beehive, with a new and improved English subtitle translation. The supplements on Disc 2 are thoroughly fascinating, beginning with “The Footprints of a Spirit,” a very well-made documentary about the making of the film, combining present-day (2006) visits to the film’s original locations along with interviews with director Victor Erice, producer Elías Querejeta, coscreenwriter Ángel Fernández Santos, and actress Ana Torrent (now a beautiful 40-year-old veteran of many Spanish films). “Victor Erice in Madrid” is an extensive and thought-provoking interview, conducted by Japanese filmmaker Hideyuki Miyaoka, in which Erice discusses his films, and specifically The Spirit of the Beehive, including his observation that the film’s shot of young Ana Torrent watching Frankenstein for the first time (a real-life reaction filmed with documentary realism) represents “the most important moment I have ever captured on film.” Two other 2006 interviews round out the supplements: One with the great Spanish actor Fernando Fernán Gómez (who describes how he “couldn’t understand a word” of the Beehive screenplay, but played the role of Ana’s father because he needed the work), and another with scholar Linda C. Ehrlich, who astutely discusses the film’s visual qualities (including its warm color palette and the influence of Vermeer’s paintings on Erice’s sunlit interiors), the significance of Frankenstein to the story, and the qualities that made The Spirit of the Beehive both timely (in terms of its sociopolitical context) and timeless. The accompanying booklet contains an informative essay on the lasting influence of Erice’s film, including the startling revelation that Erice (as of 2006) had directed only two more feature-length films (El Sur and the documentary Dream of Light) since The Spirit of the Beehive was released in 1973. –Jeff Shannon

Amazon’s Customers Reviews

A silent scream against tyranny.
‘Spirit Of The Beehive’, which begins ‘Once upon a time…’, uses children’s drawings in its opening credits, anticipating the film’s key scenes, spaces and motifs. This alerts us to the child’s-eye view the film will largely take, focusing on two young sisters in s small Spanish village, Segovia, in 1940. They live in a vast, decaying mansion with their parents (a solitary, obsessive beekeeper, and a mother dreaming of her exiled lover), and servants. When James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ is shown in the village hall, the younger sister, Ana, is particularly haunted by the scene in which the monster plays with a little girl by the side of a lake, throwing floating daisies onto the water. Her sister tells her that the monster didn’t die in the film, but that his spirit lurks around an nearby abandoned outhouse, beside a well in an arid plain. Spotting a large footstep in the area, Ana prepares herself to meet the spirit.Victor Erice’s film, often conidered the greatest ever made in Spain, is at once ascetic and sensual. It is ascetic in its evocation of a depleted Spain, one year after the bloody trauma of the Civil War, a place heavy with silences and suppressed emotions, parched, peeling buildings surrounded by dusty streets and outlying areas as dully stagnant as this new way of life, former granduer a dessicated memory. The film is sensual in the way this world is seen, coloured and re-imagined by the two young heroines, especially intense, dark, bow-legged Ana. The house they live in, like the beehive their father tends (grilled like a honeycomb, glowing with an amber light), is a silent, claustrophobic, ill-lit mansion, stripped of its personal decor, the kind of haunted house pregnant with silent screasm we find in late Bergman (e.g. ‘Cries and Whispers’). But while their exhausted, experience-reeling parents give up, the girls explore its mysteries like the innocent heroines of Gothic fiction or fairy tales. There is very little dialogue in the film, limited to the remnants of civilisation (school) or the elegiac confessions of letters and diaries – much of ‘Spirit’ is choreographed around brooding, pregnant, enigmatic rituals.

In a film haunted by ghosts and the charred traces of a vanished way of life, even the characters, in their movements and silences, move around familiar spaces like phantoms. The two great unspoken voids of the film – the Civil War and Franco – are only indirectly alluded to, and yet they shape this world, they are the spirit of this beehive. A necessarily symbolic and allusive work (made under the Fascists, its strategies, allegories and even style recall Eastern European films made under similar totalitarian regimes), metaphors work in complex, shifting patterns, in once sense, connecting characters in unexpected ways (trains, watches, monsters etc.), they are a further grid constricting these dead characters. On another, they magic another reality, of spirits, ghosts, memories, shadows beyond the reach of a spirit-destroying regime that would burn all records of alternative possibilities and realities. Even if it achieved nothing else – and ‘Spirit’ is one of the most potent, quietly stunning and moving films in all cinema – then Erice’s movie would be precious for rescuing ‘Frankenstein’ from camp, and restoring its austere beauty. — Darragh O’Donoghue

Somewhere in Castille about 1943…….
The opening scenes present each character in their private world. Laura, the mother, is writing a letter to a lover who may or not be merely imagined. This is her fiction.

Fernando attends his bees and in the privacy of his library meditates on the nature of existence using the beehive and the industrious workings of the bees within as a metaphor for civilization. The slightest change upsets the bees work…and being 1943 great changes have altered the fabric of life in Spain. We glimpse Fernando’s state of mind by reading his accounts of the bees daily activity and for him lifes once rich rituals it is clear have now been reduced to pointlessness and sadness.

For Laura these changes Spain has gone through have forever altered the way she sees life. She feels life can no longer be embraced and lived to the fullest as it once could.

The structure of society which would have given the parents some sense of purpose and significance has collapsed. And the way they sleepwalk through their lives leaves the children feeling like orphans. The only example they have of what life is is learned at school and in the movie theatre. The girls are particularly moved by a showing of the classic Frankenstein. For them this large melancholy figure seems strangely familiar. What they cannot fathom is why the friendly beast kills the little girl in the movie. The youngest girls mind will not be put to rest until she finds her answer.

The movie’s haunting scenes which veer between carefree innocence and haunting confrontation with stark reality are perfectly complimented by the Luis de Pablo soundtrack. One of the strangest most disturbing melodies is played by Laura herself. And throughout the film director Victor Erice’s camera will on occasion come to rest on one of the mansion’s paintings which depict man as a hopelessly lost creature among forces that are beyond his comprehension. The childrens imaginations are haunted by a world beyond their comprehension and so are the adult imaginations and so is the viewers. Victor Erice presents each life as a separate narrative and the narrative lines do not overlap. The films stark strategy emphasizes the lack of cohesion in Spanish life. Each character is lost within themselves. Poetic and stark and yet beautiful as the best Spanish poetry. — Doug Anderson

I am Spanish and I do beleive this is one of the geatest films in the history of Spanish cinema. I won’t repeat the reasons given by reviewers here and elsewhere. So I’ll come to the point. I eagerly awaited the Criterion edition to give away my old DVD copy released in Spain by Manga films. After all Criterion has gained an oustanding reputation for the great care they take in their editions. Well, their transfer looks certainly better than the one in the Spanish release, everything bathed in a warm honey colour. A bit grainy at times, the grain may be present in the negative. But the aspect ratio looked wrong to me and when I compared it with my Spanish edition I realized the picture has been zoomed to fill as much as possible the widesreen, with unnecesary loss of picture information at the top and the bottom. I wonder why even Criterion is so afraid of having black bars at the left and right of the screen. It may seem a small point, but in a film like this one the whole frame should be respected. I can’t imagine Erice approving this compromise. But even if he did, it was wrong. The framing looks much better in my old copy. Now I cannot give it away. And in my rating I must drop a star just for that. Shame. –Bartolome Mesa Gil

The Spirit of the Beehive, 8.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating


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The Spirit of the Beehive
The Spirit of the Beehive (Spanish: El espíritu de la colmena) is a 1973 Spanish drama film directed by Victor Erice. The film was Erice’s debut and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema. Made during the last few years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and set in 1940, the...
Posted 12 Apr 2011

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Categories: Images, Spain, Spanish movies, Synopsis, Trailers


  1. [...] (España)Lucía de Humberto Solás, 1968 (Cuba)Mar adentro de Alejandro Amenábar, 2004 (España)El espíritu de la colmena de Víctor Erice, 1973 (España)La estrategia del caracol de Sergio Cabrera, 1993 (Colombia)Mujeres [...]

  2. [...] ravens and they’ll peck out your eyes”). Ana Torrent (the dark-eyed beauty from The Spirit of the Beehive) portrays the disturbed eight-year-old Ana, living in Madrid with her two sisters and mourning the [...]

  3. [...] and the struggle to live under authoritarian or dictatorial rule) with the 1973 Spanish film El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive), widely considered to be the finest Spanish film of the 1970s.Del Toro [...]

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