Sunday, October 19, 2014

Do wasps have a spirit too?

A movie that's very interesting and worth a watch, albeit rather difficult to classify, is airing overnight tonight (or early tomorrow morning depending upon your point of view): The Spirit of the Beehive, at 4:30 AM.

The scene is Spain, around 1940, or just after the Spanish Civil War ended. Ana (Ana Torrens) is the younger sister in a standard-issue family that has two girls, a mother, and father. Dad spends his time philosophizing and keeping bees, writing about the way the bees go about their life, while Mom apparently had another man in her past before she met and married Dad, because she's got a bunch of old love letters that aren't from Dad. (Or at least, I [i]think[/i] that was supposed to be the plot point.) The two sisters are more or less typical for young girls the world over.

One day, the local cinema shows a very interesting movie: James Whale's 1931 masterpiece Frankenstein. The kids watch in awe of the monster, but one scene that particularly affects Ana is the one in which the monster accidentally drowns the little girl who gives him a flower, and then the girl's father carries her dead body through town before the townsfolk attack the castle where Dr. Frankenstein does his experiments. Ana's sister decides to play a bit of a prank on Ana, telling her that Frankenstein's monster actually lives nearby, and she'll show Ana where the monster lives. Big sister then takes Ana to an abandoned farmhouse a couple of miles outside of town, saying that this is where the monster lives, although it happens not to be there at the time (natuarlly, since there's no monster).

The little girl, having a vivid imagination like many young children do, starts fantasizing. She wants to see the monster, so she keeps going back to the farmhouse. Eventually, she does find something in the house, but it's not Frankenstein's monster. Instead, a fugitive (whether it's just a run-of-the-mill criminal or a fighter from the losing side of the Civil War isn't quite made clear) has holed up there. Eventually, though, the authorities capture the man, and Ana decides to run away from home.

In among all this are a bunch of scenes that seem like vignettes in one of those old Hollywood movies that tells a child's story through vignettes; think a movie like Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. But The Spirit of the Beehive is a different sort of movie entirely. The vignettes feel a bit disjointed and the plot at times seems almost baffling. Why is there so much emotional distance between the various family members? Why does big sister play dead? But the visuals are stunning, and anybody who had an active imagination as a child should be able to identify with Ana. If you haven't seen The Spirit of the Beehive before, you should see it at least once. And if you didn't get it the first time, you may want to watch it again.

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