Cinergía Movie File:

The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena) 

Directed by Victor Erice, 1973

 

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This file was created by Deanna Kohrs

Scroll down or Click on any section to jump ahead:

Section 1: Pre-screening

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

    Section 3: Media analysis


Section 1: Pre-screening  

Part I)  Background Links for “El espíritu de la colmena”

Note: Given the transitory nature of internet resources we suggest conducting a search to help answer the pre-screening questions.  Only a few links are included below.

Franco’s military rebellion

      http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/4/0,5716,35794+3,00.html

(English)  This site briefly describes the Civil War, the main aspects of Franco’s fascist regime, as well as his forty-year dictatorship.  It describes Spain as an exhausted country after the war, and explains that although Franco’s dictatorship was established, the country remained internally divided and impoverished.  This is an essential aspect to understand when viewing the town represented in “El espíritu” as well as when analyzing the alienated family represented in this film.  

Portal Fuenterrebollo:  Gobiernos Dictadura

    http://www.fuenterrebollo.com/sfranco1.html

(Spanish)  While explaining Franco’s powers as Chief of State, and head of the Armed Forces and the Falange, this site also describes how all other political parties were suppressed.  It mentions how any opposition was repressed and illustrates how more than 300,000 were incarcerated around 1940.  The information mentioned helps explain why so little communication is presented in “El espíritu de la colmena.”

 Historia Cultural Contemporánea de Espańa: La Censura Franquista

    http://www.geocities.com/jaoskam/introsp.htm

(Spanish)  This site provides a brief section explaining the effects of censorship and how it was enforced during Franco’s dictatorship to stop any subversive messages from challenging the status quo.  The effect of censorship is pertinent when viewing “El espíritu de la colmena” because this film was made and produced in accordance with these laws.    

A Desperate Democracy Disregarded

    http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/spain/intervention.html

(English)  While explaining the aid that both the Republican and Nationalist side received in the war from different countries, this site provides important links concerning events preceding the war and the goal of the Revolution.  Spectators should be familiar with the Nationalist party that won the war, as well the Republican party that was suppressed afterwards.  

  Espańa Siglo XX

    http://vespito.net/historia/

(Spanish) This detailed site focuses on El Franquisimo and the Transition.  It provides a history of both sides of the war, an article on life in 1940’s, and supplies links about the dictator Fransciso Franco.  Before viewing the film, it is necessary to understand Spain’s condition both prior to Franco’s regime, as well as after.  Links that pertain to the Transition after Franco’s death in 1975 are also available.   

They Still Draw Pictures:  Drawing made by Spanish children during the Spanish          

         CivilWar,circa 1938

     http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/tsdp/ 

(English)  This Web page provides a link to over 600 children’s drawings of the Spanish Civil War!  By viewing these drawings, one can draw correlations between the symbolic pictures drawn by Ana that are shown during the opening scenes to the film “El espíritu de la colmena.”

Frankenstein

   http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/frankenstein/frankhome.html

(English)  Since this film rotates around the fantastical image of Frankenstein, this site provides some background information concerning when, where and by whom the story was created.  Since Frankenstein captivates the protagonist, Ana, in the movie, “El espíritu,” the links provided here will provide the spectator with interesting facts.  How the idea for Frankenstein originated is described, as well as how his origins may be linked to his representation in the film.

14.)  El Espíritu de la Colmena

http://www.mcbxl.yucom.be/es/e/espiritudelacolmena.htm

 At this web page a still of the girls can be found on the train tracks.  While this is not a scene that was used in the final debut of the movie, it provides an interesting composition and alludes to similar images that will be seen in this film. 

15.) El espíritu de la colmena

http://imdb.com/title/tt0070040/

(English)  This site connects to the Internet Movie Database and provides both a summary of the “El espíritu de la colmena,” as well as user comments.  Links about the director are provided in addition. 

Part II:  Pre-screening questions

  1. When did the Spanish Civil War end and who was the victorious party?
  1. What is the name of the dictator who gained control of Spain and how long did he rule?
  1. How did the dictatorship squelch any political opposition and what happened in terms of Human Rights?  Who controlled the censures and how did this affect the type of information available to the Spanish People? 
  1. What kind of Spain did the dictator desire to create and was he successful in implementing his ideas?    
  1. What type of cinema was available to the citizens of Spain during the dictatorship?   Who decided what was shown and where?  
  1. What happened to people who were considered to be “subversive” and a threat to the dictatorship and its ideals/principles?
  1. After the war, was the country unified once again?  How and why did the Civil War divide families, and how was this resolved after the war ended?
  1. What main events occurred in the 1940’s in Spain?
  1. How and why was Spain isolated internationally from other countries and how did this affect its economy and the wealth of the people? 
  1. How did the Civil War affect children?  Describe some aspects of family life during that time period.

11.  What is the plot of the film “El espíritu de la colmena” and how does itcorrespond to the information gathered above? 


Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

Part I:  Comprehension questions

  1. What was the theme of the movie and who were the main characters?
  1. What was the setting of the movie and what feeling did it invoke?  In other words, how did it contribute to the sense of isolation?
  1. What year was the movie produced, what year does the movie represent, and how does it correlate with Franco’s censorship laws? 
  1. What do Ana’s drawings depicted in the opening of the film prefigure?  How do they provide a context for what follows?
  1. How does “El espíritu” represent Spain after the Civil War?  Describe specific scenes. 
  1. Do you think the movie is realistic or abstract and why?  Name some of the repeated symbols and sounds used in the film.
  1. Why did the movie lack a lot of dialogue, and why did most of the characters whisper? 
  1. What symbolic importance does the image of the beehive have in the film?  Where did you see this motif repeated and what meaning do you think it embodies?
  1. What importance does the movie “Frankenstein” play in the film “El espíritu de la colmena”?  What horror scene is depicted, and how does the movie “Frankenstein” affect the reality of the young girl Ana? 
  1. How does Ana begin confusing reality and fantasy and what role does her sister play in this? 
  1. How would you describe the relationship between the father and the mother?  What pastimes did each of them have, and did they pay much attention to their children? 
  1. How did the lack of communication in the family contribute to Ana’s desire to meet “the spirit” of Frankenstein? 
  1.  What other educational sources of information were available to Ana and were they reliable? 
  1. Ana is shown depending on her older sister for advice and information in the beginning of the film, but what turning point makes Ana reject Isabel and stop communication with her? 
  1. What did the barn and well symbolize for Ana?  Why was this place so special to her and what changed near the culminating point to force her deeper within her imagination?
  1. What syntagmatic importance did the father’s gold watch embody?  How did it almost implicate Ana’s father and why did he not talk to Ana about it?  How did the lack of communication further complicate matters?
  1. How does the figure of Frankenstein change throughout the film for Ana?  How does he become more real for her as other sources of information turn out to be faulty?
  1. Considering the information you gathered concerning the division of families during this time period, how would you classify Ana, Isabel, the father and the mother is terms of their political devotion to either the Nationalists or the Republicans?  Why?  
  1. How did the portrayal the town hall, theater and morgue all located in the same room and building contribute to the representation of Spain’s poor economy in the 1940’s?
  2. What importance does the title “El espíritu de la colmena” have with the movie?  What symbolic meaning does it contain and what images in the movie relate to your interpretation?  How does the title critique Spain’s society in that era?

Part II:  Historical Accuracy

  1. How has the film contributed to your sense of understanding of the period following the Spanish Civil War?
  1. How does the representation of the protagonists adequately represent the historical division of the citizens of Spain during that era?  
  1. Does the representation of the divided family possibly provide the misconception that every family experienced such division after the Spanish Civil War?  
  1. How does the abstract representation of the effects of Franco’s dictatorship in “El espíritu” serve as a historical resource for understanding that time period? 
  1. Who was the intended audience and why was the film produced near the end of Franco’s regime?  Where was the film initially shown? 
  1. As the opening scene explains, “El espíritu de la colmena” is set “somewhere in Castilla in the 1940’s.”  How do the images shown in the film provide the perspective that all of the towns in Spain were desolate and isolated during that era?
  1. While all national and international movies had to bypass censures in order to be shown in Spain during Franco’s dictatorship, what is the likelihood that the American horror film “Frankenstein” traveled to small towns throughout the country in the 1940’s?
  1. By placing the film in the context of the 1940’s, do you think an adequate historical representation was provided although no reference was made to World War II?

Section 3: Media analysis  

The trapped beehive

            The natural light entering the window to the right of the frame illuminates the main character’s face, Ana, in “El espíritu de la colemna.”  While illuminating her face, the bright key light also shines upon her father’s trapped beehive, casting both images into deep focus.  The yellowish tinted light that divides the still in subtle glow and dark shadow represents the clairvoyance of Ana’s young mind during this period versus the dark isolation of Spain’s older generations.  Through the close-up of her face staring at the beehive, Ana’s interest in the trapped beehive is emphasized through the chiaroscuro lighting.  The repeated motif of the beehive pattern in both the window and hive draws attention to the symbolic meaning of the items.  Similar to the trapped bees that work incessantly without benefiting from their labor, so did the workers of Spain toil under Franco’s controlled dictatorship.  Similar to the closed beehive, Spain also lacked communication during this historical period.  Ana’s observation of this is clear as her quizzical look exams the repeated pattern that needed to be broken.         

Ana in front of barn

            The panoramic view illustrating Ana in the foreground standing like a statue in front of the abandoned barn symbolizes the creation of her fantasy world.  The extreme long shot depicts the isolation of Spain during the beginning years of Franco’s regime, and the barn and well represent the place where Ana meets “the spirit” of Frankenstein.  The natural lighting fills the frame and the neutral colors contribute to the sense of seclusion.   While Ana is shown in the foreground, in the background her sister can be found blending into well as she cajoles Ana into this fantasy world she created.  This still reflects Ana’s moment of hesitation, yet soon after she runs to her sister by the well and this location transforms into the site where Ana mixes reality and fantasy.  In context to proceeding events in the film, the barn is where “the spirit” of Frankenstein becomes flesh and blood when the fugitive jumps of the train and chooses this place to hide out.  It also serves as the place that severs Ana’s connection to reality when she finds the blood of the man after he’s been assassinated.  In the proceeding scenes, Ana is forced to withdraw into her own personal world due to the lack of communication in Spain during this time period.       

Whispering in Theater

      This image, taken during the viewing of the movie “Frankenstein” in the film “El Espíritu de la Colmena,” presents two of the main characters of the film, Ana and Isabel.  Ana’s innocent face and big brown eyes are illuminated fully in a bright light generated from the movie, while Isabel’s lit profile is shown to the right side whispering in her ear.  The stark, chiaroscuro lighting in this still creates an eerie effect of two floating faces against a black background, which parallels the dark shadows found throughout this film.  Both Ana and Isabel are depicted in an extreme close-up in deep focus, revealing the quizzical expression on Ana’s face after asking her sister if Frankenstein truly killed the young girl in “Frankenstein”.  Ana doesn’t understand why Frankenstein would do that and asks her sister for clarification, yet as proceeding scenes show, Isabel is a very faulty source of information and contributes to Ana’s confusion between reality and fantasy with twisted lies.  Instead of being honest with Ana, Isabel continually contorts the truth.  Put into the larger context of the film and its underlying meaning, Ana represents the innocent young generation of Republican Spain around 1940, while Isabel symbolizes the Nationalists who are obsessed with money and power.  When Ana asks Isabel for advice, all she receives are deceit and lies.  Finally, there comes a point in the film in which Ana no longer turns to her sister and her trickery, and therefore turns inward towards her own imagination.    

Frankenstein with flowers Hallucination in Lake

            Each of these stills brings into play the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality in the “El Espíritu de la Colmena” (“The Spirit of the Beehive”).   The first image is generated from the actual film “Frankenstein”, while the second one is the hallucination that the young girl Ana sees in the lake.  The initial still from “Frankenstein” is composed of a medium shot with contrasting light, radiating from the sun in the upper right hand corner of the frame.  The key light/natural light illuminates the face and gloved hands of this man-made human that “contains the brain of a criminal”.  Through the use of a hazy focus and lighting, Frankenstein is shown experiencing the simple human pleasure of playing with a flower.  The still portrays him as rather harmless, although his monstrous figure counteracts this suggestion and alludes to the proceeding scene when he kills the innocent young girl.  Through the use of “metacine,” the image shown in the movie “Frankenstein” affects the reality of the innocent main character, Ana, in “El Espíritu.” 

The second still portraying Frankenstein’s face reflected in the lake represents Ana’s break with reality after all her sources of information are proven defective under Franco’s dictatorship.  The extremely dark chiaroscuro lighting solely illuminates the eerie face of Frankenstein, which is lit from the natural light emanating from the moon above.  His features are shown in focus, and in the scene from which the still is generated, Ana’s innocent face and his grotesque appearance fade in and out. This scene parallels the actual clip from the movie “Frankenstein,” and relates to Ana’s disconnected reality.  After faulty information sources (such as Ana’s family, school, and exposure to film) fail to provide adequate sources of information, Frankenstein syntagmatically transforms from a character in a movie into an object of fantasy, and in the end symbolizes Ana’s faith.

Part II:  Media Literacy Questions

  1. The director Victor Erice was the creator of the film “El espíritu de la colmena” and its commentary on Spanish life after the war, yet did he reside in Spain during the years depicted and have first hand experience of these events? Whose point of view does is provided in the film?
  1. Who owns the medium and funded the production of the film?  Was it meant for a Spanish audience?  At whom is the movie targeted?
  1. Do you think the film is aimed at a certain segment of the Spanish population, or are all people supposed to recognize their blame concerning the lack of communication in their country?
  1. How does the chiaroscuro lighting and dark background used throughout the film contribute to the sense of separation and isolation?
  1. How does the use of natural lighting in the film add to the surreal atmosphere?  Why is natural lighting used instead of studio lighting?
  1. Why does Erice use extra long shots to create distancing gaps between the characters in the film, and how does it affect the spectator’s interaction with the movie?  For instance, panoramic shots are often used when depicting the winding road, the train tracks and the barn.     
  1. How do the use of extreme close-ups represent the psyche of the main characters and their political affiliations?
  1. What function does the near absence of dialogue represent in the film?  What is Erice trying to communicate about Spain through the lack of verbal interaction?
  1. How does the lack dialogue explain Erice’s method of avoiding the censures when producing this film?
  1. What do the continual use of fades from one scene to the next represent?  In other words, how does it comment on the passage of time in Spain?
  1. How does the eerie piano and flute music contribute to the haunting feeling of “El espíritu,” and what is Erice trying to communicate?
  1. How does the director separate the representation of fantasy and reality in the film, or is it divided at all?   Why or why not?
  1. What function does the use of “metacine” (or use of a different film in a film) have in “El espíritu”?  Why did Erice chose this particular film and not another?
  1. Could the portrayal of Frankenstein symbolically represent Franco and his dictatorship?  Consider the similarities between both names. 
  1. Why are sounds such as the train whistle, footsteps on the wood floors and hum of the bees magnified and emphasized?  What are they each supposed to symbolize?
  1. Why does Erice repeat the symbolic motif of the beehive in both the windows of the house and actual hives?  How does this add to his desired interpretation of the film?  
  1. Why does the film end without closure?  Why is Ana seen alone standing on the balcony in front of the beehive-window doors thinking “Soy Ana…” (“It’s me Ana…”)? 

 

 

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