Director: Víctor Erice
Cast: Ana Torrent, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera, Isabel Telleria, Ketty de la Camara
In a remote, rural 1940s Spanish village, a young girl named Ana is growing up with her father, mother, older sister, and housekeeper. Her father is a beekeeper who spends most of his time writing about his bees. Her mother is distant, preoccupied in a self-absorption of writing long letters to her secret lover. Her sister Isabel is her only friend, albeit a somewhat mischievous one, always playing tricks on Ana and taking full advantage of her youthful and gullible nature.
Perhaps the only thing the people of this village really have to look forward to is when the new movie reel comes to the local cinema–children jump around the truck, and everyone in the town crowds in the door, having brought their own chairs. When James Whales' 1931 Frankenstein comes to town, Ana is nothing short of traumatized by the monster; however, her ferocious curiosity is not to be confused with fear.
Ana begins a solitary journey to find the monster, to summon his spirit, to find out if and why he killed the little girl in the film. Her obsession leads her into dangerous situations–journeying far away from home to a remote abandoned farmhouse, feeding vagabonds, and long, lost walks in dark forests. Her dysfunctional family hardly notices until the father's coat and pocket-watch go missing, as a result of one of Ana's schemes.
The film is extremely slow-moving with dry, rolling landscapes. The homes feel as abandoned as the land, and the characters within Ana's family are never shown together on screen–always separated, always isolated– even when at the dinner table. Ana's adventure is one purely on her own, and her wide eyes are wide open windows into her emotions. Without much dialogue (and often when there is, it is in a whisper), we are able to imagine all of the overwhelming feelings and wonderings of small Ana.
The film is often cited as being a grand inspiration for Pan's Labyrinth, a modern day Spanish fantasy film. After seeing both, I can really see the similarities in the use of the young girl, but the pacing and use of violence in Pan's Labyrinth make it almost unrelatable to the quiet, contemplative Spirit of the Beehive.