Victor Erice’s bewitching 1973 debut, Spirit of the Beehive, is a primer in restrained filmmaking. Set in a crumbly, remote village in the Castilian countryside, Beehive follows a family — sisters Ana and Isabel, their parents Fernando and Teresa — as they cope with the trauma of the Spanish Civil War. With their parents often uncommunicative and preoccupied — Fernando with beekeeping and Teresa with writing secret letters to a former lover in France — Ana and Isabel wander in their own imaginings, often inspired by the original Karloff Frankenstein. But plot is less important to Beehive than mood. Though unspoken, the specter of war hangs over every scene. Erice’s claustrophobic cinemaphotography, made up of golden browns and oranges, gives the film an unsettled, antiquated look, like an insect caught in amber. The Frankenstein motif is part of this aura: for Erice, nothing is more powerful over a child’s imagination than the cinema. Quiet and contemplative, Spirit of the Beehive gently exposes the wounds we all experience in life, and ponders the havens we build in order to cope.
Opens January 27 at Film Forum