The Spirit of the Beehive

FRUIT OF HER LABORS Torrent offers food to her new friend.
FRUIT OF HER LABORS Torrent offers food to her new friend.

Time Out says

The crayon drawings seen under the credits of Vctor Erice's debut feature initially suggest that a misty-eyed portrait of prepubescent paradise lies in wait, but don't be fooled by first impressions. This story of sisters Ana (Torrent) and Isabel (Tellera) doesn't candy-coat their morose leanings or downplay the melancholia of their surroundings; if anything, The Spirit of the Beehive is less a fairy tale and more a Gothic parable about the loneliness of youth.

The siblings live in a rural Castilian village-turned-virtual ghost town, ignored by their beekeeping dad (Gmez) and a mother pining for a lost love. After a dubbed print of Frankenstein is shown in the town square, Ana turns Karloff's monster into a fictional father figure, convinced that the creature lives in an abandoned house. When a wounded Republican soldier fleeing Franco's guard eventually holes up there, tragedy is practically guaranteed.

Erice has completed only three features to date (one more than his poetic counterpart Jean Vigo, one less than fellow recluse-genius Terrence Malick), yet had this been his sole film, the director's reputation as a major talent would still be assured. Unafraid to delve into the darker recesses of a child's imaginative flights, the director infuses a haunted soul into the surreal vignettes and sumptuous imagery of the Spanish countryside; the days of youth have rarely seemed this heartbreakingly beautiful. (Opens Fri; Film Forum.) —David Fear



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