Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive is an inspired choice for al fresco cinema, but think twice about bringing little kids…
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Outdoor Cinema at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens. Curated by the programmers at Film Forum and Rooftop Films, the Wednesday evening screenings of international films run from July 11 through August 29.
The choice of film for August 8 is ideal for an outdoor, communal screening, as Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) opens with a community coming together in front of a makeshift cinema screen. The people of a tiny village on the vast Castilian plain attend a town-hall screening of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), brought to them by the cinema truck that visits monthly.
Written by Erice, Ángel Fernández Santos, and Francisco J. Querejeta, The Spirit of the Beehive, set in 1940, was filmed elliptically and doesn’t disclose all it secrets. Franco was 34 years into his 36-year military dictatorship when the film came out: It conveys the sense of fear and resignation that the Spanish people had lived with for nearly four decades.
Among the rapt audience for Whale’s Gothic horror classic are two sisters, six-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent) and the slightly older Isabel (Isabel Tellería), who live with their parents, Teresa (Teresa Gimpera) and Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez), in the local manor house. Ana is disturbed by the scene in which Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) accidentally murders the little girl he befriends.
Isabel explains to her that the Monster is a spirit in human form, and that neither he nor the little girl died, since movies are fake. Nonetheless, Ana believes something real has taken place and her imagination integrates the dreadful spectacle into her daily reality. Isabel, who has an older child’s habit of playing on a younger sibling’s fears, at one point feigns her own death to terrify Ana.
These girls are left far too much to their own devices. They place their ears to the rails of the nearby track to listen for coming trains, then stand just feet from the track when the trains thunder past. Fernando is preoccupied with the random, chaotic behavior of his bees and writes deep into the night about his probably fruitless invention of a glass hive. On one occasion when he comes to bed, Teresa feigns sleep so he won’t disturb her. A distant wife and mother, she writes clandestine letters to a former lover who is held in a post-Spanish Civil War Red Cross camp in France.
Out on the plain stands a disused sheepfold that the girls explore. It is the Monster’s house, Isabel tells Ana. Soon Ana takes to going there alone. She may not have a death wish exactly, but her desire to see the Monster is influenced by the knowledge that he has killed a little girl on screen. When a wounded Republican fighter takes refuge there, she brings him food and drink. Like the escaped convict whom the children believe is Jesus in Whistle Down the Wind (1961), the Republican means something imperceptible to Ana, though it would be simplistic to suggest she thinks he is the Monster. His affect on her is nonetheless calamitous.
Teresa and Fernando live amicably enough—she covers his shoulders with a shawl when he falls asleep at his desk at night—but they are also entrapped by their marriage and social circumstances. One clue to this is the honeycomb-patterned, honey-colored leaded windows of their mansion, which holds them like Fernando’s hives hold their bees, and which, he says, are domiciles of feverish, senseless activity.
Bees, like the Spanish people, are victims in this context. Yet the bees in an indoor tube made of a thin wire mesh, which Ana blows and fingers dangerously, would impose a threat should they get loose. Though Erice’s symbolism is complex, it’s evident that the beehive of the film’s title is Spain under Franco.
Ana’s imagination militates against entrapment, but like the imagination of a subversive artist grappling with a monster in Franco’s Spain, it is imperiling. It eventually brings on a trauma that echoes the national trauma of the late war and Francoism.
Whether you watch it indoors or out, The Spirit of the Beehive is a haunting film—once seen, never forgotten. Every adult who, as a child, stepped out of bounds and tempted fate, will identify with little Ana—and perhaps with Ana Torrent, the now middle-aged actress, who is unable to shake the experience of playing the little girl.
This much is made clear by Torrent’s participation in a Spanish documentary about the making of the movie that appears among the extras on the Criterion Collection DVD of the film. It shows Torrent returning to Ana’s family’s house in the village many years later. Didn’t she know you should never go back?
The Summer 2018 Socrates Social Park Outdoor Cinema screenings begin at sundown. Pre-screening performances begin at 7pm. Admission is free. This is the lineup of films:
July 11: Monsoon Wedding (India)
July 18: Black Mother (USA/Jamaica)
July 25: The Young Girls of Rochefort (France)
August 1: Loveling (Brazil)
August 8: The Spirit of the Beehive (Spain)
August 15: Tampopo (Japan)
August 22: Kedi (Turkey)
August 29: The Passionate Thief (Italy)
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.