It was clear from the outset that The Spirit of the Beehive was one of the most eagerly anticipated films programmed for this year's Wisconsin film fest.
For one, the initial round of tickets for the screening of this Spanish film from the '70s sold out almost immediately last month. More visibly this evening, the number of people looking to attend the screening via will-call tix was tremendous, festival volunteers working assiduously to make sure every last seat in Cinematheque at the UW's Vilas Hall was filled with an eager cinephile.
The Spirit of the Beehive is currently undergoing a minor revival. Directed by Victor Erice, and long considered a classic, the film has recently been restored and released as a Criterion Collection title on DVD. Its setting in aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and tale about a young girl's supernatural fantasies also earned it recognition as a precursor to last year's Pan's Labyrinth.
The spirit inhabiting the child's imagination is the classic Frankenstein, conjured by a screening of the James Whale film in the small Castilian village she calls home, and brought to life by her impish older sister's conjuring. This monster soon becomes an obsessive fantasy for the girl, one that intersects with the casual brutality of the Spanish government in the wake of victory of Franco's Nationalists over the republican Loyalists.
The alternating possibilities of night and day provide a rhythm for the film, and ultimately an escape from and to childhood.
When the film ended, there was no applause from the audience, unlike the first screening of the night at Cinemathque. The Spirit of the Beehive is a melancholy work, one that is not immediately ready for digestion. Nevertheless, the handful of people I spoke with after the screening each expressed appreciation for the film.