No 93 - El Espíritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive)
Director - Victor Erice
This film was made at a time when Spanish cinema couldn't directly discuss politics, so it is fair to say that it is symbolic. An Allagory. I don't know if I'll ever know exactly what it symbolises. I don't know if it matters. What matters is one simple point: this film is beautiful.
The film follows a Spanish family in the early 1940's. The mother (who is never the most central of characters) appears to be unhappy with her lot and writes letters to a lover who is in France - a victim of a war, but never states whether it is the Spanish civil war or WWII.
The father tends to his bees and writes his essay on beekeeping and generally seems quite distant and tired. Distant from the rest of the village and distant from the rest of his family. He is played by Fernando Fernán Gómez and at times he looks so much like Pete Postlethwaite it is remarkable.
Whilst these two characters appear in the film. They are never integral. The film follows the adventures and thoughts of the two sisters. Therefore any time the adults appear on screen, the film quietens, the action lessens. It is almost as if the film is on its best behaviour. Rather than jumping around on the bed.
The elder sister is Isabel, played by Isabel Tellería, she acts as the source of all knowledge for the film. Imparting advice to her younger sister on subjects as deep as cinema, life, death and the existence of spirits (a theme which keeps her younger sister captivated through out the film). We, the viewer, then get to follow the younger sister as she makes her journey through life with this new knowledge.
Despite the film following the entire film, we have a true protagonist in Ana, the youngest daughter, played by Ana Torrent.
Ana is the most adorable screen child. She isn't self conscious, she isn't aware of the camera and (Rarest of all) she isn't a detestable screen brat. She is in fact cinematic magic. The whole film exudes a mystical and beautiful sense of magic. A sense of fairy tale where anything is possible. You get caught up in the fascination of the world and the limitless wonder because Ana is caught up in the fascination and the limitless wonder. She is the most captivating and beautiful character, and it is amazing when you remember she is only 7 years old and consider how effortless she carries the film and moves it along.
This is all the more remarkable because nothing really happens in the film. It is a film which celebrates the imagination of children and in order for that to work effectively, it has to be displayed in mundane surroundings. So we get pivotal scenes which amount to nothing more than a trip to the cinema or a day out gathering mushrooms. But these scenes are almost hypnotic in how beautifully they're displayed. The lingering shots of mushrooms and the explanations of which mushrooms are poisonous are which you can eat.
If there are any moments in the film that can be viewed as key moments, they would be the 'Frankenstein scenes'. These occur at the beginning and the end of the film.
Firstly, the cinema comes to town and almost the entire populous come to the town hall to watch Frankenstein. The children are fascinated by it and Ana is shocked by the deaths in the film. It is here that Isabel offers her sister the most important advice of the entire film.
People don't die in films. They're spirits who haunt the world and are given a physical body to appear in films.
If you befriend one, you can call it back to talk to at any time by closing your eyes and repeating your name.
She is then told that the spirit of Frankenstein lives in a disused house next an old disused well, every seemingly mundane scene is interspersed with another of Ana's visits to try and find the spirit.
When a fugitive from the civil war hides in the disused house Ana naturally assumes it is Frankenstein's spirit and begins to tend and feed him and keep him looked after (until he is shot).
After the soldier's death - Ana slips further into imagination, finally recreating the final scenes of Frankenstein and meeting the monster herself.
I don't feel guilty about essentially telling you the plot of the film, because this film isn't about plot. It is about the beauty in the tiny moments and the wonder of imagination.
It may be an allegory, but that isn't what is important. It may have some really unusual motifs (musical pocket watches? Surely the most annoying thing in the world.) bug again that isn't important.
More importantly than anything, this is a celebration of youth. Back when youth was about innocence and imagination rather than smashing up houses.