The Spirit of the Beehive (1973): A Study of Trauma and a Very Clever Attack Against a Fascistic Regime

James Lanternman
7 min readMar 25
Elías Querejeta/Bocaccio Distribución

Victor Erice’s 1973 debut, The Spirit of the Beehive, always stuck in my mind as a movie with some real artistry, belonging in discussions of the greatest films of all time. It had been eons since I last saw it, and my memory had dimmed enough that, to work out where to put it on a “best of all time” list, a rewatch was needed.

It was the kind of rewatch where I felt in a rush to reacquaint myself with it at first, and its slow pace felt at cross-purposes with that goal. My movie-saturated noggin, and my ever-shifting perspectives on life and art as I get older, often make me feel the need to rewatch movies to confirm they are still as good as I remember them.

It was also the kind of rewatch that by the end of the viewing, I was more than glad to have it bright and clear in my mind again. It is a beautiful and politically brave work of art, and the kind of movie that, though its world feels desolate and spiritually grief-stricken, its message has a good and inspirational energy.

The movie is quiet and slow paced, though its runtime is only 98 minutes. It is complex storytelling that builds a perspective that reminds you what it was like to be a child, including the constant threat of boredom. The movie could be said to be on some levels, at least until what it is saying becomes clear, boring — though sweet, emotionally complex, and shot superbly well.

As the story develops, it takes on greater character and interest, and becomes more directly engaging.

The plot follows a family living in a small village in Spain in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, 1940. Two sisters, six-year-old Ana and her elder sister Isabel, live in a farm house with their parents, Fernando and Teresa. Fernando is a beekeeper and poet, and spends his time absorbed in these occupations, emotionally removed and in something that strikes as a traumatised-but-technically-functional condition.

The presence of the Spanish nationalists and their instruments of state in post-Civil War Spain is subtly portrayed, from the countryside. This technique of making the evil force almost invisible likely helped the film be released there in the late years…

James Lanternman

Movie reviews, essays, and moonlit thoughts.

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