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Spirit of the Beehive (The Criterion Collection)

4.5 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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The Criterion Collection
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(Sep 19, 2006)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Criterion Collection is proud to present Víctor Erice’s spellbinding The Spirit of the Beehive, widely regarded as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s. In a small Castilian village in 1940, directly following the country’s devastating civil war, six-year-old Ana attends a traveling movie show of Frankenstein and becomes haunted by her memory of it. Produced as Franco’s long regime was nearing its end, The Spirit of the Beehive is both a bewitching portrait of a child’s inner life and an elusive, cloaked meditation of a nation trapped under tyranny—from one of cinema’s most mysterious auteurs.

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

Special Features

  • All-new, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • "The Footsteps of a Spirit," a documentary featuring director Víctor Erice, producer Elías Querejeta, co-screenwriter Ángel Fernández-Santos, and actor Ana Torrent
  • "Victor Erice in Madrid", an interview with the director by filmmaker Hideyuki Miyaoka
  • New interviews with actor Fernando Fernán Gómez and film scholar Linda C. Ehrlich
  • Booklet with a new essay by film scholar Paul Julian Smith

Product Details

  • Actors: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera, Ana Torrent, Isabel Tellería, Ketty de la Cámara
  • Directors: Víctor Erice, Carlos Rodríguez
  • Writers: Víctor Erice, Carlos F. Heredero, Francisco J. Querejeta, Ángel Fernández Santos
  • Producers: Elías Querejeta, Isabel Lapuerta
  • Format: Color, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: Spanish (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: September 19, 2006
  • Run Time: 99 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000G8NXZU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,427 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Spirit of the Beehive (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: VHS Tape
'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').
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: VHS Tape
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.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Many first time viewers of The Spirit of the Beehive will watch it and go "huh?" As a result, they may decide that art film (or international film) is beyond them OR that it is a bad film. Neither is true if some basic preparations are made. Not everyone comes ready made to understand a great work of art -- nor should we feel guilty because we aren't. Some simple backgrounding can make all the difference.

Several specific simple preparations can help. (1)Read up a little on the Spanish Civil War. This can help set the time and place of the film. Even a skimming of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls could help adjust one's mind. (2) Watch Whale's film "Frankenstein." This can set a psychological context. Ana, as a little girl, is growing into an awareness of her Self and her world -- so too is Frankenstein's monster. It also helps set a literal context -- how else can one understand the relationship between the monster and Ana in Beehive if one doesn't understand the incident in "Frankenstein" between the monster and the little girl he accidentally kills. (3) Re-read a traditional fairy tale or two (not Disney, try Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm). This will help establish the "once upon a time-ish" way of thinking of Beehive. Remember how often the children in fairy tales are abandoned -- one or both of their parents are dead, the remaining parent is often separated from their own children either because s/he is preoccupied with putting food on the table or is lost in memories of the past. Think too of the relationship between siblings in fairy tales -- while the older sister in Beehive is not quite the ugly stepsister of narrative fame, she is not above the (fairly normal) petty torture of her little sister.
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