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June 17, 2005

The Village / Spirit of the Beehive

Spirit of the Beehive
Victor Erice - 1973
Region 2 DVD

The Village
M. Night Shyamalan - 2004

I finally got around to seeing The Village on DVD. I know M. Night has a lot of fans but I'm not one of them. For me, every film from The Six Sense on has turned out to be a big budget, elaborate Twilight Zone episode. But compared to M. Night, Rod Serling had more wit and irony in a compact half hour. I am glad I didn't spend money to see The Village in a theater. Not only did I figure out the 'twist" to the story well in advanced, but I was distracted by lapses of logic that undermined the premise. With William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver and cast in 19th Century dress, and the glacial pacing of the narrative, this is what a horror movie would look like if it was made by Merchant-Ivory.

The Spirit of the Beehive was a film one of my teachers at NYU encouraged me to see. I didn't for some reason. I made a point of catching up with this film in part because I have since had greater interest in Spanish language cinema.

The story is about two young girls in a small village in 1940. A travelling projectionist presents Frankenstein at the town hall. The younger of the two girls, Ana, is entranced by the monster, and is told by her slightly older sister, Isabel, that the monster lives on the outskirts of their village as a spirit visable to only a few. The two girls visit the empty barn where the monster is said to live. Ana finds a man in the barn during a solo visit. While it is not clearly explained, the man is presumably a political fugitive of some kind. Ana brings the man food and clothing. Eventually she and the fugitive are discovered. Ana is seen hiding by a lake in a scene that replicates the seen of the Frankenstein monster and a young girl in James Whale's film. Ana has her own encounter with the monster.

Ana Torrent was six years old when she appeared in Spirit of the Beehive. She has grown to be a gorgeous woman. While I haven't seen her most recent work, I noticed from her filmography that I did see her in Vacas (1992) by Julio Medem, and Thesis (1996) by Alejandro Amenabar, two of Spain's best younger directors.

What is interesting about the narrative of Spirit of the Beehive is that it reminds us about how powerful movies can be when we are younger, when we are at an age of total belief in what we see. I was six when I first saw the original King Kong on tv. I asked my mother how the film makers were able to get a giant gorilla to climb the Empire State Building. About three years later some neighbor kids told me the story of William Castle's The Tingler. Gullible child that I was, I endured several nights of insomnia, afraid that this tingler creature would attach itself to my spine and eventually kill me. I was even certain after seeing George Pal's film of The Time Machine that there would be nuclear war in 1964. O.K., cold war jitters aside, that actually almost happened. It is possible that for many people, there is the need to believe what they see, as in the conviction of many at the truth of The Blair Witch Project.

What The Village and Spirit of the Beehive share is the shared belief in the power of story telling.

Posted by peter at June 17, 2005 04:19 PM