On the surface, Victor Erice’s 1973 film The Spirit Of The Beehive is a simple drama following the family life of six-year-old Ana in 1940s rural Spain. However, there is so much more going on in this picture that transcends the typical boundaries and enters into almost fantastical territory. Made at the tail end of the Francoist regime, Erice follows in the tradition of the likes of Luis Bunuel and creates a film richly steeped in symbolism, so much so that, despite subtly criticising the regime, and containing messages and themes that would have been considered inappropriate, it slipped by the censors completely uncut. The first viewing may not reveal this additional content, but the rich, poetic quality of the story will draw you back in time and time again. Mysterious and enigmatic, there’s a child-like sense of wonder as we follow Ana, magnificently played by Ana Torrent, through the course of the film’s events. It’s a gorgeous looking film with a painterly aspect to the visuals, shot by director of photography Luis Cuadrado, who at the time of shooting was going blind. The music in the film by Luis De Pablo, best known for his avant-garde work, combines these aesthetic leanings with elegant orchestrations featuring woodwind, piano and acoustic guitar, imbuing it with the rich tradition of Spanish folk music. At its heart, steering it in this direction is writer-director Erice. Clearly, this is the work of romanticism, a harkening back to a better time before the Spanish civil war. Indeed, many have read into the film’s symbolism as seeing the disintegration of the Spanish nation, its isolation, the lifeless order of society under Francoism, Ana as representative of the innocent young generation of Spain around 1940, while her sister Isabel’s deceit symbolises the Nationalists obsession with money and power; even James Whale’s Frankenstein plays an important part within the film’s narrative and wider symbolism. Erice, who can be seen in many ways as Spain equivalent to Terrence Malick in terms of his sparse output (he has only fourteen credits to his name since 1961, many of which are shorts or segments in collaborative anthology films), in his debut feature, made with this picture one of the great masterpieces of Spanish cinema.