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The Essential Movie Library #75: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Infused by a six year-old girl's perspective, this film is distinguished by the secrets it keeps from us: affairs, eternity and faith quandaries, and the exhaustion of innocence

For a movie that both feels so delicate and gets so routinely called a masterpiece, The Spirit of the Beehive may catch up with you slowly. It’s as fragile as a small girl’s heart and as enduring as her imagination, yet it’s also among the least sentimental films about childhood, not because of anything that happens but because its tone is infused with a six-year-old’s perspective, and six-year-olds are not sentimentalists. They’re likelier to view mushrooms growing from the ground as not magic but deadly. The story takes place in one of those expanses of the Castilian countryside at once harsh and beautiful; only gradually does a political subtext creep in as we realize the unforgiving tyranny of Francisco Franco is just beginning (this movie was made near its end), almost always viewed as things are from the eye-level of childhood, when social upheaval and its renegades who hide in abandoned farmhouses easily mix with stories of Frankenstein’s lonely and forsaken monster. 

Like many remarkable works of art, Beehive finally is distinguished by the secrets it keeps from us: the affair, for instance, that the girl’s mother may be having with a Red Cross worker in Nice, about which we know nothing more than what a love letter thrown into the fire might have revealed; the obsession of the girl’s father with his beehives, in which he struggles to decipher eternity and faith; and whatever malevolence reveals itself with the exhaustion of innocence, as it flashes through the mind of the girl’s slightly older sister, who likes to play dead and rouge her lips with her own blood. Childhood blossoms in blood, as writer-director Victor Erice would put it later, “like an endless rose.”

Read them all:

The Essential Movie Library #74: Sexy Beast
The Essential Movie Library #73: Groundhog Day
The Essential Movie Library #72: Rear Window
The Essential Movie Library #71: The 400 Blows
The Essential Movie Library #70: Blue Velvet
The Essential Movie Library #69: Dr. Strangelove
The Essential Movie Library #68: The Bicycle Thieves
The Essential Movie Library #67: Pulp Fiction
The Essential Movie Library #66: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
The Essential Movie Library #65: Caché
The Essential Movie Library #64: A Hard Day's Night
The Essential Movie Library #63: The Searchers
The Essential Movie Library #62: The Conformist
The Essential Movie Library #61: Bonnie & Clyde
The Essential Movie Library #60: Sweet Smell of Success
The Essential Movie Library #59: Melancholia
The Essential Movie Library #58: La Dolce Vita
The Essential Movie Library #57: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt
The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her
The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L'Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2
The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
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The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
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The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy