Friday, February 24, 2006

I Capture the Castle

My daughter has decided that we live near a castle. Three days a week I push her and and her twin brother in a stroller to their preschool, about a 15-minute walk from where we live, and each morning as part of her customary trip narration she declares "Castle!" I know better than to say "water tower" or "Toronto Hydro," because she will only shake her head in pity for my ignorance and repeat "Castle!" with rising emphasis until I admit that yes, it is a castle, a beige brick castle with a red-and-white metal tower on top.

On Friday I saw Spirit of the Beehive (1973), and I was astonished at director Victor Erice's ability to capture the view of a child. An abandoned farmhouse becomes Frankenstein's lair, a midnight walk becomes a means to summon a ghost, a sister's playing possum becomes death itself. There were points in the movie where I sat up in disbelief, jarred by a memory of the way I thought and acted as a child, that memory brought back so vividly it was as though I were a little girl again if only for a minute.

The setting is a remote part of Spain in 1940. Ana (Ana Torrent, about six years old and possessed of eyes that could stop your heart) sees "Frankenstein" via a traveling movie show. Her sister Isabel convinces her that the monster's spirit is still somewhere about. Ana's parents, traumatized and estranged, pursue their own obsessions and are only fitfully present in their children's lives. Spain's Civil War just ended, and throughout the film we sense real monsters barely kept at bay as the girls become more engrossed in their games. It is a strange movie, visionary and almost plotless, crammed with symbols of adult isolation, deception and loneliness. But despite the frequent reminders of the grown-up world, so intensely do you enter the minds of the children that when a bit of magical realism takes shape late in the tale, it feels as logical to you as it does to Ana.

I walked out feeling a bit disoriented, as though I had slipped inside my children's heads and could not alter my view back to adulthood. If you had taken my hand and walked me to school, I would have sworn I saw a castle.

10 comments:

Zach Campbell said...

This is a really excellent film, and I'm sad I missed the chance to see it recently on the big screen here in NYC. Campaspe, have you seen Carlos Saura's Cría cuervos? Ana Torrent again ...

Peter Nellhaus said...

After reading your piece on Spirit of the Beehive, I re-read my own where I linked the film to the much lesser The Village where the parents tell the monster stories to their children. I also realized that Beehive could also be linked with another film about children in the Spanish Civil war, The Devil's Backbone by Guillermo Del Toro. Essentially, one can go off in several tangets with Beehive.

Yan said...

Have you taken your daughter to see Toronto's "real" castle--Casa Loma? It's actually pretty charming and worth a visit.

Gloria said...

Ana Torrent. Great eyes indeed. She has grown up and is a fine adult actress.

I remember "El espíritu de la colmena" as a fine film (so I could check it up again one of these days). It tackled our inCivil War under a very unusual light. I fondly recall actress Lali Soldevila. She was a natural at comedy, who, sadly died too soon: in the film she plays a more straight role as the schoolteacher describing the human body.

If you have checked Victor Erice's filmography, you'll be surprised at the scarce number of films: it is the only way he can keep doing films like that (that is, the kind of pictures he wants to do).

Re one's child mind: I recall seeing a white Pegasus as a little girl: and I'm still sure I didn't dream it up

Brian said...

Coming to San Francisco in June as part of a Boris Karloff tribute of all things! I can't wait.

Campaspe said...

Zach: No, I haven't, but I would love to see it. She was a truly amazing actress, not a single trick and no mugging. The young girl playing her sister was equally fine.

Peter: There is a very strong political angle to the movie, which is interesting because it was made when Franco was still in power. But it is subtle, so I guess that is how he got away with it. I had been playing with my kids all day when I saw it, so I think I had child world-view on the brain. It is funny how what you're going through will make you see a movie in a certain way.

Yan: I have walked around Casa Loma, but we haven't gone, and we should!

Gloria: The schoolteacher scene was very funny and charming, the actress was good indeed. So you are in Spain! Reading about Erice reminded me of Terrence Malick, who also directs films about once a decade.

Brian: A Karloff tribute - I love it! It is a pretty good fit, once you have seen "Spirit."

Gloria said...

The comparison with Malick is rather becoming. Erice does films like "E Sol del membrillo (Quince Tree of the Sun), dealing entirely with Spanish painter Antonio Lopez painting a Quince: sort of a race against time as his style is detailed and the quince, after all has that tencence to become ripe.

Have you seen Erice's "El Sur"? it's a beautiful flic about a father/daughter relationship.

(and, yes, I am one of those garlic-loving natives)

mireille said...

that disorientation was a gift, as if you shapeshifted. great post. xoxo

Campaspe said...

Gloria: No, but now I am really determined to see more Erice, and Ana too if possible.

Mireille, thanks so much. I think this film would speak to your poet's heart, I highly recommend it to you. It's on DVD and apparently the print is very good.

Cait Shortell said...

I loved this movie. It haunts me along with Cria.