Victor Erice’s SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (x3)

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5 March 2012

I’ve seen it three times now — once on the big screen, once on my laptop, and once in a classroom with 15 undergraduate students (a seminar on literature of childhood).  It holds up every time, which is remarkable (in the second and third instances) given how patiently the story and its characters unfold, and how little speech there is in the film.  Victor Erice‘s THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE moves from philosophical to morbid to lighthearted to melancholy via the simplest filmic gestures; and, of course, there is Ana Torrent‘s stunning little face, which moves through these registers and emotions with the same seamlessness and beauty.  Definitely among my top 5 of all time.

Criterion‘s film notes tell us that the film’s artful spareness is in good part due to Franco-era censorship (the film was made in 1940, the year after Franco took power).  There were more overt political references in an earlier version, as well as a reflective voiceover from an adult Ana.  I am no proponent of censorship; but as a teacher, I feel affirmed in my imposition of parameters and limitations on students (word counts, prompts, etc) as they work on craft; so often we see that Less is More.

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