V??ctor Erice's dreamy allegory The Spirit of the Beehive still stings today
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Cast a spell — that is what movies (at least nondocumentary ones) are or were supposed to do, and yet how often do they achieve that aim today? V??ctor Erice's original feature, 1973's The Spirit of the Beehive, is partly about the spell a masterful movie can cast, and also is a many-shaded masterpiece that casts an unforgettable spell, a waking dream that disperses in a way that seems to infect the world outside the darkened rooms in which it breathes and lives.
At first glance the story seems so simple, and after all, it is set "Once upon a time ...," as an intertitle announces, just after a credit sequence featuring objects relevant to the story — a beekeeper's mask, a train, a well, a mushroom, and that surrealist standby, a clock — drawn by the film's lead actors. But more specifically, it takes place somewhere on the Castilian plateau of Spain around 1940, as Frankenstein comes to town. Ana (Ana Torrent) and older sister Isabel (Isabel Teller??a) are among the children who race through the barren rural landscape to a movie barn to see James Whale's classic chiller, but it is only Ana who cranes like a lunar flower under the projected light, ignoring a prelude from the film's producers that warns viewers not to take what they see too seriously. Before Ana and her sister emerge playfully shrieking from the darkened building, Erice has already allowed Frankenstein's influence to seep outside, into the seemingly oblivious existences of the girls’ mutually alienated parents, a beekeeper (Fernando Fern?