Víctor Erice’s Espíritu de la colmena (Spirit of the Beehive) (Spain, 1973) is one of the rare films that managed to live up to my high expectations, but went about doing it so differently than I expected–not that I can say I really knew what I was expecting–that it kind of threw me for a loop. But it is certainly, undeniably a masterpiece and Ana Torrent, with her stillness, poignant silences and general passiveness, gives one of cinema’s great child performances.
But what I think impressed me most was the structure, which manages to be lean and economical and yet simultaneously loose and associative. Mimicking the patterns of childhood memory, each scene and sequence seems to be separate and closed off from the others (many could probably play effectively as stand-alone short films), yet Erice and his screenwriting team manage to fit everything into a progression that seems natural and logical, so much so that in some ways it comes off as a bit conventional. In all the film seems so simple, but at the same time it’s obvious how deceptive that placid, gold-toned surfaces are–hidden depths lurk beneath.