Literature, Cinema, Transition, Disenchantment. Or the State of Exception (October 24-26)

This week we discussed the meaning of The Transition in post-Franco Spain, and how disenchantment played a significant part in that period.  For your blogpost, compose a brief commentary about how you see these issues represented in Luis Martín Santos‘s novel Time of Silence and Víctor Erice’s film The Spirit of the Beehive.

Blogpost are due on Saturday October 28 at 5pm at the latest.

12 Replies to “Literature, Cinema, Transition, Disenchantment. Or the State of Exception (October 24-26)”

  1. This past week, we looked at the way literature and cinema impacted The Transition with the novel Time of Silence and the film El espiritu de la colmena.

    This film takes on the task of being a meta-film as in the movie they are watching Frankenstein and then Frankenstein is also a part of the film itself. It is meant to represent the chaotic times of The Transition and how it affected people. During the movie, it was unclear what time period it was even though in the beginning of the film, it was stated the film is from the 1940s. The film itself was not made during the Transition but found a way to predict the way things would be in the close future. The gloomy walls and dark lighting reflect the character’s and country’s mood. Another interesting factor is how the relationship is between the parents and the children. Even with the one scene of the mother brushing the little girl’s hair, it does not feel like the children are close to their mother at all. The mother is more concerned about herself and her own affair that she seems to be neglecting her girls. She suddenly grows concern when her daughter is recovering later in the movie, but by then it is too late. This fractured relationship shows the disintegration of Spain. Her lack of proper care is a parallel to the government regime.

    In contrast, the novel is supposed to be after the Civil War. Both the film and novel use gloomy imagery to show the isolation of the country after the chaotic times. Even though Spain is trying to recover, it has a long way to go because of all this darkness. The landscape shots and descriptions are meant to represent the Francoist regime and the effect it had on the people and the nation as a whole. This also ties back into historical manipulation as Spain keeps losing their identity. Spain cannot identify itself which makes it difficult for the individuals to identify themselves as well.

    Both Time of Silence and El espiritu de la colmena display the pain all these regime changes and wars have had on Spain and every single person in this nation.

  2. In Time of Silence, Martín-Santos writes that despite the hard times,

    “the deceptive beauty of youth which seems to shut out the real problems of existence, the childish grace…all this confounds by creating an illusion that things are not so bad, when, in reality, they are very bad indeed…there is a beauty that has more grace than beauty born of agility and rapid movement, where apparent vivacity is really rapacity, and the hypnotic steadiness of gaze might be mistaken for the strength of desire rather than the lack of satisfaction.”

    This excerpt is important in discussing the ideas of Gaze, meta-film, youth, and innocence that exist within El espíritu de la colmena. In the film, we are given the sense of a film within a film—a movie is happening within the movie that Ana and Isabel are creating, with their eyes serving as the camera’s gaze. It is within this vein that we come to understand Martín-Santos’s idea of the steadiness of gaze being mistaken for the strength of desire rather than the lack of satisfaction. In Ana, we see her desire to know, to discover, and to uncover the tales Isabel feeds her, but in the sisters we simultaneously see their lack of satisfaction in their obvious growing disenchantment with their world. Aesthetically, the vast, wide shots of empty landscape cinematically show the isolation of the girls and the family from seemingly everyone else, an eye into the way Spain was folding into itself as it entered into the fateful period of autarky and detriment. While at first the girls treat this land, in their innocence, as their playground, exploring and wandering with seemingly no parental supervision, the film takes a dark turn as it shows, still with their eyes as lenses, their growing disenchantment as they push further and further into their own narrative fantasy. Through scenes such as Ana standing on the train tracks and Isabel having to call her back before the train gets to close, to the attempted choking of the cat, and the smearing of her own blood that followed, frustration and angst come to the surface, as we see through their eyes how their own perceptions of their surroundings and circumstances change.
    We watch, through their eyes, as their father takes them on a walk through the forest and explains that one of the mushrooms is extremely poisonous, squashing it with his boot and telling them to stay away from it. Here, we see a teaching moment, wherein their father explains the dangers within something their innocence may have kept them from realizing—their childish grace, in the words of Martín-Santos, would have created an illusion that things are fine, when their father knows they are not. In the end, we see, in Ana’s gaze, the peak of her “lack of satisfaction,” when it is implied that she eats the mushroom and begins to hallucinate. This is the breaking point of her disenchantment, and also marks the moment where her mother finally looks right into her daughter’s own eyes, her gaze, to realize that she does not know her at all. Inherent in this idea is the connection to the state of confusion that the entire country felt within the transition—Ana’s transition is a microcosm of this, and, like for Spain, by the time her mother realizes what has happened, it is too late, and things can never be the same.

  3. The Transition marks a time of a major political, cultural, and sociological shift in Spain that, to a modern and foreign audience, seems like one of alleviation of the recapturing of independence for Spanish people. However, through filmic and literary texts we’ve studied, one could argue that not only was the transition fear-invoking and uncomfortable for much of Spain, even those who detested Franco and his dictatorial rule, but also caused the historical memory of fascism to be manipulated in a way that it seemed “not so bad.” Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive embodies much of this discomfort and lack of seamlessness, despite the film being set in the 1940s. A theme of violence had always been exploited by Spanish films, and the end of fascism didn’t result in the extinguishment of such a theme. The Spirit of the Beehive made use of very disturbing images, including a young girl sensually painting her lips red with blood, the strangle of a cat, jumping over fire and playing with matches, and the recurrent image of American horror’s Frankenstein. Not only this, but the traditionalist Spanish celebration of maternity and a woman’s honor is shattered with an mother neglects her daughters and pursues an affair and other male attention. Needless to say, this film is one that dabbles with foreign ideas, a lack of exceptionalism compared to other films we’ve viewed, and forces the camera’s gaze to something horrifying yet new, and maybe even progressive, with these depictions of the girls and the mother. I might argue that the audience was meant to be discomforted by this new perception of women in Spain. Moreover, in Luis Martin-Santos’s Time of Silence, the narrator struggles with many disturbing events, some of which disrupt the perfect image of a woman’s honor. He’s clearly depressed, as his research and investment in science have consumed him entirely, and he seems so disenchanted with those around him and the state of his life. The second page of the excerpt reads, “We are a poor nation, a poor nation.” This declaration could be argued to sum up the attitude toward Spain during its transition from one political state to the next. Although in a wide retrospective view, the end of fascism allowed for so much liberation creatively, sexually, socially, and culturally, it also placed Spaniards in an uncomfortable state of uncertainty, stripping them of the political climate they were so used to, and art often reflects that.

  4. By the 1940s, Fascism took hold of Spain. This is a constant theme that is explored in both the film The Spirit of the Beehive and the excerpt from the novel “Time of Silence.” Both, though, differ in their depiction of the manifestation of Fascism. The novel focuses on the lower and middle class. The poverty itself that the lower class was facing was uniting, because of the sheer multitude. Upper-class life, as shown in the film, is isolating. Those in the upper-class were the minority under this regime. The family in the film were isolated from each other, too. The film shows an estranged mother-daughter relationship; the mother is too busy focusing on her affair to care for her daughters. In the scene where Teresa, the mother, is combing Ana’s hair, Teresa emphasizes that Ana needs to be a “good girl” despite her own affair. There is a disconnect between what she is trying to instill in Ana and what she does herself. The family as a whole experiences a lack of emotion toward each other; this is paralleled with the emotional destitute of the Spanish people during the Civil War. Even the family’s home is isolated, surrounded by rolling farmland. Spain’s isolation from the rest of the world and within the country. Many shots in the film focus on the hexagonal pattern of the beehive, whether that be from the actual honeycomb or Fernando’s study window. For Erice, the hexagonal pattern is very rigid, paralleling the rigidity and constriction felt by those in Spain. The honeycomb, though, is filled with freely moving-bees. Arguably, this represents Spanish people’s desire to be free of the constraints of Fascism. Ana is very innocent looking, yet she became the face for a new era of film that was dark and morbid. This reflected the sentiments of the people by the onset of the regime.

    -Ru and Avani

  5. In class, we discussed how, although this period is stated to be a time of transition and change, there is still oppression and nostalgia for a more repressive time occurring in the 1970s. Spaniards were not allowed to get divorced until 1978, and even then, they had to wait 5 years until the divorce could be legal. Spain still had a ways to go in modernizing and globalizing their country.

    We can see evidence of this disenchantment through Víctor Erice’s film The Spirit of the Beehive. Young Ana represents the naivety and innocence of Spain before the Spanish Civil War, showing how distraught and detached the country becomes once it undergoes a complete change in their government, political system, and society after the triumph of the nationalists. Most notably, the scene in which the doctor is discussing Ana’s health with her mother is heavily influenced by disenchantment. Víctor Erice conveys how Ana is a representation of Spain through the doctor’s words, stating how she will be upset for a while, but over time she will forget what happened to her. This seems to be a direct portrayal of Erice’s views on the ending of dictatorship, and how Spaniards are supposed to forget that it ever happened, tying into the “pacto de olvido” that Pavlovic mentioned in her book. The silent consensus that Spanish citizens kept in order to disassemble Francoism was intended to reconcile the country, but I believe Erice wants us to question this silence and this pacto de olvido.

    In Time of Silence, the narrator is so disenchanted with the reality he faces, stating that “we are a poor nation, a poor nation”. He is forced to deal with the fact that there have been funding-cuts to his department, which was working on a project that he obsessed over. With his passion driving him, the narrator gives into his moral dilemma of buying back stolen mice with the M.N.A strain while commenting on how his city is “lacking in historical substance” and how arbitrary its authorities are. This description in itself of the city is a look into the future of Spain after fascism. Luis Martín Santos clearly finds the mentality after fascism flawed in Spain, not because it lacks Franco, but because Spain will now struggle to find it’s own identify and enter a state of disenchantment because of it.

  6. This week we explored the period directly after the civil war of Spain and the onset of the Fascist regime in Spain and the period directly following the civil war known as the transition. The film El Espiritu de la Colmena depicts Spain in the 1940’s and has various subtle hints to illustrate the political, economic and social landscape of Spain at the time. The disfunction of the family illustrates the disfunction and disintegration at the time. The mother regularly cheats on her husband with a foreigner and is very negligent about caring for her children until Ana goes missing. The barren landscape in which the family lives in represents the era of exceptionalist and isolation in which Spain shut down its borders. Lastly, the two young girls each represent the two distinct personalities of Spain at the time as Ana represents the innocent young generation of Republican Spain around 1940, while her sister Isabel’s represents the Nationalists who are obsessed with money and power.
    As it pertains to the novel, it represents the period of Spain known as the Transition. The novel is similar to the film as it depicts Spain in a depressive state, but the landscape is different. The novel describes Spain as it recovers from the repressive period of fascism. The novel repeatedly describes the scenery of Spain which is meant to asses the damage of fascism and describe what must be overcome to recover. This damage also represents the damaged identity of Spain which was lost during this period and must be regained for Spain to return to its former glory.

  7. This week we focused on The Transition in Spain, which took place in 1975 after Franco’s death, and how the citizens of Spain reacted to such a change. Although the film The Spirit of the Beehive and the novel Time of Silence were created before the time of The Transition, their content still features a transition in Spain’s history.

    What interested me the most after watching the film and reading the section of the novel was the way parents would treat their children during times of uncertainty. In the film the parents are not attentive to their two daughters because the father is focused on his bees and the mother is focused on her affair. With this freedom the daughters can essentially do whatever they please. This lack of authority in their lives causes Ana to run away from her father when he catches her in the house where the fugitive stayed. What confuses me the most about this scene was that Fernando does not run after her right away, but instead he waits until she is out of sight. In my opinion, this demonstrates his uncertainty of where he stands and his role in this new regime because he does not react right away.

    In Time of Silence there are two transitions, the beginning of fascism and the death of her husband. Similarly to The Spirit of the Beehive, the parent in this situation does not exactly know how to raise her child in this time of difficulty. For example, when she would ask for money she dressed her grown daughter like a child or a widow to gain more sympathy. This mother would use her child to manipulate people, but when she was not doing that she was too busy grieving over the death of her husband to pay attention to her daughter.

    Both of these works show that during times of transition people look inwards to see how they are able to fit into this time of change and then turn their attention towards others. In turn, if they are parents this method affects how they treat their children.

  8. Victor Erice’s El espíritu de la colmena created a sence of horrow throughout the film despite visual violence being confined to very few scenes. At the start of the film, Ana sees a dubbed version of the film Frankenstein in the town theater. Later in the film, patterns of suspense arise using scenes from Frankenstein in order to provoke a sense of danger. In a sense, the violence from Frankenstein creates the platform for the violence in the actual film. In Frankenstein, the monster drowns the young girl, but the audience, and Ana, are left without knowing the reason for her death. In a later dialogue, Ana’s sister tells her that no one actually died, since it is just a film. By dismissing the film as just a film, it creates a metecinematic moment that preserves the audience’s suspension of disbelief. As Ana runs away to a riverbed, she imagines the monster. The scene of the girl drowning is mirrored in Erice’s film. Ana’s reflection in the water shifts into being the reflection of the monster from the film. After a shot that focuses on her face, the camera switches to the point of view of the monster creeping up behind her. This creates a visual cue of the danger that was implied by the earlier film. The ensuing scene is essentially a shot for shot remake, mirroring the film shown earlier in Erice’s film. However, the scene with Ana is shot in color and without any dialogue. This creates a more realistic scene than the black and white version earlier in the film. The result of this creates far more eerie interaction with even more suspense for the viewer. The film creates constant nods to danger, with this scene being the most closely linked to the film. The initial film Frankenstein becomes a tool to invoke danger in the life of a Ana where none should really exist without her decision to invoke the danger herself.

  9. This week we were discussing the theme of the transition and disenchantment. The movie was a little confusing for me at the beginning because I was trying to understand who she was writing too and who the father was talking about in his head as he made so many rhetorical questions because it seemed as if he wasn’t talking about his wife. The father also seemed to have this weird attachment with Ana than her sister. The movie seems at some point kind of nice about to sisters that get along and it plays with the innocence of kids. However, there are these disenchantment elements that concur with some scenes that make the viewer uncomfortable. The scene where Ana’s sister plays with the cat to the point of choking him. She gets hurt, sucks some blood out of the wound and still rubs the blood over her lips almost like lipstick. This scene is grotesque and morbid to some extent. There was also the scene where Ana doesn’t remove her head from train tracks as the scene is approaching. The technique of metafilm used in this film is also very interesting because the movie within the film parallels the story line. Ana befriends a maybe wanted criminal in the hopes of fulfilling this desire to meet Frankenstein and at the end it seems as if she has gone crazy and even imagines it. I think these clashes mark the uncomfortable feeling of Spain to understand what do now after the transition from the Franco regime. In a way just like Ana, they don’t know how to deal with reality.

    Luis Martino’s, Time of Silence, plays with this notion of depression and disenchantment. He is not fully satisfied with his work as he is drowned in it and the nation that surrounds him. The novel is gloomy as it depicts the conditions of the lower class and emphasizes this sense of disenchantment and unhappiness. I think that it’s still emphasizing this confusing time of Spain was facing when it went from such an oppressive society to a more liberal one but they didn’t really know what to do now.

  10. El Espiritu de la Colmena and Tiempo de silencio are two pieces who place their narrative in the past, not looking at the period of the establishment of the Franco regime but situating their story within the indirect spirit of their context. Erices genre escapism marks its origin in the 70s and also has the effect of pointing towards the future in displaying the shift in cinematography that would occur only two years later in the Transition after Franco’s death. The film escapes the reigns of treating upon the topic of nationalism blatantly, while its narrative still coexists in a focal time of Spains history. This leads the audience to search for clues within the sceneries and details of the characters. This search is also emphasized by Erices recurrent use of long shots and close ups which slow down the pace of the plot, forcing the viewer to have time to search for meaning in the small details such as body language.

    Both the novel and the film also depict the struggles and strengths within inter-familiar relations, having the family structure as the central framework through which events occur. Similairly, both Tiempo de Silencio and El Espiritu de la Colmena also present in their own ways the figure of the woman and of motherhood. In El Espiritu de la Colmena we can especially see this in the freedom of exploration that the two sisters have along with the an almost absent mother who has a very complex inner thought process which is left for the viewers interpretation, compared to the father who outwardly explains his ideas as we see in the scenes where he is constructing his novel.

  11. Spirit of the Beehive is a commentary on Franco’s regime, and on transnational influence, particularly of American culture, on Spanish society. Even with Franco’s closed borders, American influence sept through the cracks into Spain. Spirit of the Beehive is a particularly striking film because it is a portrait of an individual’s domestic distress, rather than the whole of the nation. It focuses on the lost innocence of Ana, who begins to see the world in a dark manner. She discovers and becomes obsessed with Frankenstein, who represents death and evil in the world. Although the film is set at the very beginning of fascism, it was made in 1973, Director Victor Erice recognized that democracy and freedom was approaching, as the end of Franco’s regime was near.

    The beehive named in the film’s title is enigmatic of Spanish society, which has transformed into a socially ordered society flushed by the isolation of each of its members from one another under Franco. Ana’s closed-off, isolated society is representative of Spain’s secluded nature. Spain’s alienation and its institutionally oppressive structures forced its Spanish subjects into a fantasy realm. Ana is an example of this, she is disconnected from society. The film opens, introducing its audience to the fantasy world with the phrase, “Once upon a time.” Ana is taken with the monster and enters into a dreamworld of her own, in search of him. Erice comments on the repression that existed in society through the fantastical world in which Ana lives.

  12. The Spirit of the Beehive is widely regarded as one of the greatest if not the greatest of all Spanish films. It’s one of those movies that is so dense and so rich that I feel I’d have to watch it a dozen times to notice all the hidden messages. Made in 1973, the censorship under Franco was deteriorating, but still in place. This is a key aspect to understanding exactly what the film is trying to do. It’s a film of many layers that all hold the viewer’s attention. On the surface, it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Each shot is carefully crafted to demonstrate the isolation of this family of four from the rest of society as well as the isolation among themselves. There are 1,000 total shots in the movie, 500 inside and 500 outside. Erice and his cinematographer Luis Cuadrado (who was going blind at the time the film was made) decorate each frame with sunlight and/or earthy tones that continue to make an impression throughout the viewing.

    The cinematography alone forces appraisal of this work, but Erice’s film also demands close analysis. The allegorical elements had to be carefully and more importantly subtly placed due to the censorship of the time. This means that the Erice relies heavily on his agreement with the spectator to demonstrate what he was trying to say. After only one viewing, I am not equipped to give full commentary. That being said, I will do my best to give a brief one. Ana represents Spain itself: so young, quiet, curious, and innocent. Being set in 1940, that is exactly where the country of Spain was at the time. The Spanish Civil War had just ended and Franco’s regime had just begun. Ana has good intentions, but lets her own imagination fill her up to the point of insanity. Fernando (the father) represents Franco himself. Not only does he get introduced as the “monster” by the more than clever use of metafilm in the beginning, but Franco was often referred to as the “father of the nation.” Fernando is cold and absent from his children’s lives, often shown alone in his house constructing some type of written work. He also looks over the beehive, which represents the working class of Spain (the masses). The bees are trapped in a working environment, collecting honey like clockwork, not knowing any better.

    The disenchantment works on a number of levels. For one, Ana is not old enough to have a less than favorable opinion of her father. She has not experienced enough to realize who he really is. Perhaps as she grows older, she will start to see that. It hopefully made any Spaniard alive at the time reflect on his/her experience in the Franco years and how perhaps they may have been caught in a fantastical world as well. Perhaps a small misunderstanding changed their lens on what was happening around them, just like Ana.

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