The Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la colmena, Spain, 1973)

Ana shares with the 'monster'

Ana shares with the monster

“Now without bitterness nor contempt

now without fear of changes;

only thirst…a thirst

of a little something that kills me.

Rivers of life, where do you run?

Air! it’s air I need.

What do you see in the dark depths?

What is it that makes you tremble and fall silent?

I can’t see! I look on like

a blindman face to face with the sun.

I’m going to fall in the place where

they who fall can never get up.”

This poem is recited by a primary school child directly to the camera (text quoted from and is a plea for enlightenment, a state impossible in a fascist society. Set during the Civil War (1936-9) The Spirit of the Beehive is a poetic meditation on childhood innocence and the reality of fascist hatred. Its poetic, tangential, take on repression was necessary because it was made whilst the victor of the Civil War, Franco, was still in power. This was just over 30 years ago. 25% of Austrians voted for neo-fascists in their recent election and even the British National Party is attractive to some! The problem is still with us.

The attraction of fascism is in some people’s need for a strong leader and others need to dominate. Neither psychological state is healthy but may be intrinsic to human personality so it is something we should be ready to fight.

What is the ‘spirit of the beehive’? The central character, in the benchmark performance by a child in cinema, is 6 year-old Ana (Ana Torrent) who cannot tell the difference between reality and film (the movie starts with a screening of Frankenstein in the village). Her sister tells her that the monster lives just outside the village so Ana seeks it only to find a wounded Republican (who opposed the fascist Nationalists). Her father devotes his life to studying bees – trying to understand their spirit – and her mother longs after a lost lover – presumably a victim of the War. Their house is itself shot as if it were a hive – honeycombed leading is on the windows – suggesting that the father is trying to understand the human spirit; how could it have succumbed to the fascists?

The film is not only poetic in its use of metaphor, the imagery is often breathtaking to observe. The director, Victor Erice, is not afraid of using the long take to allow audiences to think about what they are seeing. The Spirit of the Beehive is undoubtedly one of the greatest of films.

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