The Spirit of the Beehive (Spanish: El espíritu de la colmena) is a 1973 Spanish drama film directed by Victor Erice. The film was Erice's debut and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema.
Made during the last few years of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, and set in 1940, the film subtly criticises post-civil war Spain.
The film focuses on the young girl Ana and her fascination with the 1931 American horror film Frankenstein, as well as exploring her family life and schooling. The film has been called a "bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life".
The General Franco regime came to power in Spain in 1939 after a bloody civil war that overthrew a democratically elected leftist government. The war split families and left a society divided and intimidated into silence the years following the civil war. The film was made in 1973 when the regime was not as severe as it had been at the beginning, however it was still not possible to be openly critical of the regime. Artists in all media in Spain had already managed to slip material critical of the regime past the censor. Most notable is the director Luis Buñuel who shot Viridiana there in 1962. By making films rich in symbolism and subtlety , a message could be embodied in a film that would be accepted or missed by the censor's office.
When the film was re-released in the United States in early 2007, A.O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times, reviewed the film and lauded the direction of the drama, writing, "The story that emerges from [Erice's] lovely, lovingly considered images is at once lucid and enigmatic, poised between adult longing and childlike eagerness, sorrowful knowledge and startled innocence."
Film critic Dan Callahan praised the film's cinematography, story, direction and acting. He wrote, "Every magic hour, light-drenched image in Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive is filled with mysterious dread...There's something voluptuous about the cinematography, and this suits the sense of emerging sexuality in the girls, especially in the scene where Isabel speculatively paints her lips with blood from her own finger...[and] Torrent, with her severe, beautiful little face, provides an eerily unflappable presence to center the film. The one time she smiles, it's like a small miracle, a glimpse of grace amid the uneasiness of black cats, hurtling black trains, devouring fire and poisonous mushrooms. These signs of dismay haunt the movie."
Currently, the film has a 100 percent "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on eighteen reviews.
Ranked #23 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.