Spanish director Victor Erice has only completed three films in a career spanning nearly three decades. This is his spellbinding debut feature, which was made towards the end of General Franco's dictatorship, but which unfolds in rural Castille shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1940.
Young Ana (Ana Torrent) is both captivated and puzzled by the screening of James Whale's "Frankenstein" in her village cinema, particularly by the scene in which the creature meets the little girl.
Her elder and more knowing sister Isabel (Isabel Tellería) mischievously explains that the monster of the film doesn't die: instead he survives as a living spirit and that if Ana closes her eyes, she can summon him herself. Isabel also tells her sibling that he can be seen at an isolated barn, which is where Ana discovers a wounded Republican soldier...
"The Spirit of the Beehive" can partly be read as an allegorical account of a country living under the dark shadow of an authoritarian regime. In contrast to their lively children, the traumatised adults appear to have retreated into their own preoccupations: the father (Fernando Fernán Gómez) is obsessed with bees, whilst the mother (Teresa Gimpera) writes and post letters to an unknown person.
Yet in conjuring up a ghostly world, and in privileging atmosphere over plot, Erice explores the fears and anxieties of childhood. Shooting in muted golds, yellows and browns, and masterfully deploying shadow and light, cinematographer Luis Cuadrado creates some compelling images: Ana seeing the monster's face reflected in a pool of water, children jumping over a bonfire, the French windows whose patterning resembles a honeycomb.
Expressively played by its two young leads, it's a work which memorably captures a child's perspective on the mysteries of everyday life.
In Spanish with English subtitles.