The Spirit of the Beehive (Spanish: El espíritu de la colmena) is a 1973 Spanish drama film directed by Víctor 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".
Six-year-old Ana is a shy girl who lives in the manor house in an isolated Spanish village on the Castilian plateau with her parents Fernando and Teresa and her older sister, Isabel. The year is 1940, and the civil war has just ended with the Francoist victory over the Republican forces. Her aging father spends most of his time absorbed in tending to and writing about his beehives; her much younger mother is caught up in daydreams about a distant lover, to whom she writes letters. The entire family is never seen together in a single shot. Ana's closest companion is Isabel, who loves her but cannot resist playing on her little sister's gullibility. Teresa writes to her past lover while she seems to stare out the window at the old house where Ana will find the republican soldier: "Little but the walls remain of the house you once knew, I often wonder what became of everything we had there." This supposes the house has a history for her, and implies the escaped republican soldier who will run straight to this now empty and crumbling house and hide in it may have been her lover.
At the beginning of the film, a mobile cinema brings Frankenstein to the village and the two sisters go to see it. Ana finds the film more interesting than frightening, particularly the scene where the monster plays benignly with a little girl, then accidentally kills her. She asks her sister, "Why did he kill the girl, and why did they kill him after that?" Isabel tells her that the monster didn't kill the girl and isn't really dead; she says that everything in films is fake. Isabel says the monster is like a spirit, and Ana can talk to him if she closes her eyes and calls him: "It's me, Ana."
Ana's fascination with the story increases when Isabel takes her to a desolate abandoned sheepfold, which she claims is the monster's house. Ana returns alone many times to look for him but finds only a large footprint. One day, Isabel screams from a distant part of the house, and when Ana comes to investigate, she lies perfectly still on the floor, pretending to be dead. That night, Ana sneaks out and while looking at the night sky, closes her eyes. In the next scene, a fugitive republican soldier leaps from a passing train and limps to the sheepfold to hide.
Ana finds the soldier hiding in the sheepfold. Instead of running away in terror, she feeds him and even brings him her father's coat and watch. This odd, wordless friendship ends abruptly when the Francoist police come in the night, find the republican soldier and shoot him. The police soon connect Ana's father with the fugitive and assume he stole the items from him. The father discovers which of the daughters had helped the fugitive by noticing Ana's reaction when he produces the pocket watch she had given to him. When Ana next goes to visit him, she finds him gone and fresh blood on the ground. Her father confronts her as she gazes at the blood, and she runs away.
While she is wandering in the woods alone that night, she finds a poisonous mushroom her father previously said will kill anyone who eats it. It is not clear if she does so but she later has a vision of the monster; he gazes sadly at her, as in the 1931 film, and kneels beside her as she looks down into water. We see Teresa read a letter she wrote to the man who lives in Nice, France, and burning it unsent, implying the love affair is over or that she will stop communicating with him.
A search party finds Ana physically unharmed the next morning, but she withdraws from her family, refusing to speak or eat. The doctor assures her mother that she will gradually forget the shock she's just experienced. Teresa is shown caring for Fernando after he falls asleep at his desk. At the end of the film, Ana recalls what Isabel said about calling the monster, and she stands alone by her bedroom window and closes her eyes
- Fernando Fernán Gómez as Fernando
- Teresa Gimpera as Teresa
- Ana Torrent as Ana
- Isabel Tellería as Isabel
- Ketty de la Cámara as Milagros, la criada
- Estanis González as Guardia civil
- José Villasante as The Frankenstein Monster
- Juan Margallo as The Fugitive
- Laly Soldevila as Doña Lucía, the teacher
- Miguel Picazo as the Doctor