On children III

film 1 of 3

The Spirit of the Beehive

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 10, 2015

This tiny child and her inert and declining community create a productive, painful tension. Is The Spirit of the Beehive about possibility and promise, or is it about social and political and even geographical exhaustion? And if it favours the former, then how can the former ever overcome or come out from under the latter? The brave, painterly, almost perverse stillness of the picture adds to, maybe even embodies this tension. It’s a wide-eyed child and it’s giving up, all at the same time. That stillness also comes across as an invitation, or maybe even an ultimatum. There’s more than enough here to occupy any half-willing viewer, whether it’s the arts or the world that interests him. But if you haven’t the intellectual resources, or the cultural curiosity, the experience might be painful.

This is both unfortunate and ironic. If you want, there’s as much incident here as there is in My Neighbor Totoro, which it quite resembles. Ditto Pan’s Labyrinth! Here is a small child’s view, and given how little a small child has seen or known, and how much she can do to transform that which she has apprehended, a minimum of plot still makes multitudes. Victor Erice’s film won’t generate the warm feelings that Miyazaki’s film does, but it’s still a productive comparison. A Shinto optimist’s vision won’t be the same as the one coming out of a war ravaged, ancient and often punitively Catholic culture. But both are right, and neither one wins, or has to.