Theo Angelopoulos’ 1986 film, The Beekeeper, is the tender character study of a man who dreads the passing of time. As the title character, Marcello Mastroianni’s Spyros is charged with several responsibilities. First is his daughter, who is married in the opening scene. The second is his entire farm of bees — not an unmanageable size for one man, but hardly what most would call small. The third is a mysterious child of the road, a young woman out hitchhiking who simultaneously teases him and looks up to him as a father-figure. Ultimately, he is a man who should not be trusted with much of anything at all, and he spends the duration of the film proving it. Spyros wants nothing to do with responsibility, and so runs from it, taking a leave of his family for the open road and his bees.
The notion of Spyros’ irresponsibility in the very upbringing of his own daughter is hinted at on her wedding day: Spyros is visibly unhappy for the duration of the event. Afterwards, he goes outside to contemplate his old age in a mental fog which also manifests itself physically in an actual fog, not dissimilar to an iconic scene rendered 4 years earlier in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman. Spyros spends most of the film in contemplative silence. Time has not been kind to him, and he has very little to say about it. He watches expressions of embrace and rejection and thinks about them without speaking. Although nothing is ever stated explicitly, we are given a good grasp on what might be going on behind those cold eyes and well-groomed mustache from the few times he does act or speak.
He is a man absolutely trapped in the past, struggling to fight the movement of time — consistently emphasized by Angelopoulos’ masterful long takes. Spyros enjoys his young hitchhiker’s company more than he should, and Mastroianni’s mere appearance carries the weight of his countless important roles as a younger star in Italian cinema of the ‘60s. This is manifested physically when he lies prostrate on the floor under a square cinema screen — he is weighed down by the past and all its connotations. Further, The Beekeeper is framed with a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the shape of an older era.
Spyros visits his old friends. They go to the beach and drink and talk and remember. Theirs is a field of experience based primarily in memory. Time has left them behind and they struggle just to live in this newer world with older bodies, bodies that demand they give up their younger lifestyles. Their friend whom they take out from the hospital should not drink, but he does. Another friend runs naked into the water. Spyros smokes incessantly. They no longer want to live the lives they’ve grown into; they want to be left to their own devices.
Spyros’ relationship with the young hitchhiker is one filled with constant yet unspoken tensions. Although they are often in close proximity to one another, they are always framed in opposing stances — two forces struggling to meet halfway by coercing the other into making the first move. Even after physical contact is made, the emotional distance can’t be bridged, and the way they carry themselves in public together reflects that. The biggest problem in their relationship is that the emotional distance is brought about by their age difference. Whereas she is dressed in moderately punk-themed, ’80s appropriate attire, Spyros maintains a modest business-casual wardrobe he has likely worn since the ’60s. Whereas she listens to music, he listens to nothing apart from his own thoughts and desires. It is a generational difference, and it is an enduring empathy problem which applies in a much broader sense across time to different eras.
It is a film about nostalgia and the dangers of nostalgia, it is a film about growing old, it is a film about the passage of time, and most importantly it is a film: a well thought-out use of moving images which tell us more than the words spoken. Through thoughtful use of long takes, silence, and careful framing, it is a film which aims to speak to us emotionally. Theo Angelopoulos’ film posits the dangers of yearning for a past which no longer exists — a yearning which only leads to more disappointment. To call the film sad would be a disservice to its complexity. It is a tremendously sincere reflection on the means by which entire lives become mere memories.
Continue Reading Issue #33
2 hours, 20 minutes
Marcello Mastroianni, Nadia Mourouzi, Serge Reggiani, Jenny Roussea, Dinos Iliopoulos