Thursday, July 18, 2024

“20,000 SPECIES OF BEES”

THE STORY – Ane, in the midst of a professional and personal crisis, spends the summer holiday with her three children in a village house, which is closely linked to beekeeping and honey production. Ane’s mother, Lita, and her aunt, Lourdes, live there.

THE CAST – Sofía Otero, Patricia López Arnaiz, Ane Gabarain & Itziar Lazkano

THE TEAM – Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 125 Minutes


The eight-year-old main character in Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s feature debut (for which she also wrote) is angry. She’s constantly getting in trouble in school, picking fights with her siblings, refusing to interact with her parents, isolating herself, and more. She prefers to keep quiet but also shows immediate disdain when her parents call her by her birth name, Aitor, or when her siblings call her Coco, her once-chosen name, just to tease her. She has major anxiety around the pool or the idea of swimming in public, a deep love for mermaids, and looks down whenever directed as “he” or “grandson.” Our young protagonist (Sofiía Otero) may not know the word “transgender,” but a few things are for sure: She knows she’s not Aitor; she knows she’s not Coco; she knows she’s not a boy.

“20,000 Species of Bees,” one of Spain’s films shortlisted for the Best International Feature Film category for the 96th Academy Awards, follows the summer of our protagonist’s self-discovery and identity. Removed from her home environment in favor of the countryside with her extended family for her cousin’s baptism, she experiments with names and pronouns, slowly working up the courage to verbally address her feelings. To combat this, her mother, sculptor Ane (Patricia Lòpez Arnaiz), is raising her through a gender-neutral lens. She gets to wear what she wants (in the safety of her own home), grow her hair down to her shoulders, paint her nails, and accompany her mother to the women’s restrooms. But this lack of a binary doesn’t provide her child any comfort. Just when she musters up the courage, whispering in the security of the night if she’ll end up looking like her father when she grows up or why her mom knows who she is and she doesn’t, Ane simply states, “There is no girl’s stuff and boy’s stuff.” Ane is trying to help her child but refuses to ask the real question, even though she knows the answer. But Coco soon finds an unlikely ally in her eccentric great-aunt Lourdes (Ane Gabarain), who serves as a beekeeper. Instead of spending time with the rest of the family, Coco helps her aunt with the bees, who, according to her aunt, will always listen to a person’s secrets.

Even though “20,000 Species of Bees” wasn’t nominated for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards, it was nominated for the Golden Bear and won the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance (for Otero) at the Berlin International Film Festival. Additionally, it received 14 nominations at the Goya Awards, the Spanish equivalent to the Academy Awards, where it won Best New Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (Gabarain). And rightfully so, because “20,000 Species of Bees” is a tender and empathic intergenerational character study on identity and one’s quest to be seen, with a young trans-self-discovery at the heart.

Young Otero won the Silver Bear, and it’s apparent why from the opening scenes. She is tasked with a complicated character that is hurting internally and constantly walking on eggshells, fearing living inauthentically to herself and not wanting to disappoint her family. Even though Otero is cisgender, she is able to convey her character’s hurt, anxiety, and curiosity exceptionally well. Her character may have moments of angry outbursts, but Otero always roots these moments with a somberness. She is not just angry; she’s scared, frustrated, and without words to identify her feelings. She doesn’t want to be deadnamed anymore; she doesn’t want to wear a boy’s swimsuit or be referred to as a “son” or “grandson.” As an audience member, you can almost feel the questions leaking out of her in desperation. So, when the moments come and pass, like when she asks her aunt what if her newborn son doesn’t like his name, you can’t help but hold your breath with her, hoping the recipient of the message decodes its true meaning. Solaguren beautifully writes and directs Otero with ease, and cinematographer Gina Ferrer brilliantly shoots her closely so the audience can sit in the character’s mind and watch her think and react to the world around her.

Additionally, Patricia Lòpez Arnaiz and Ane Gabarain are also turning in stunning work as the mother and great-aunt, Ane and Lourdes. Ane’s life is currently in shambles, as she is constantly fighting with her husband and is lingering in her late father’s shadow, who also happens to be an artist. She allows her child to keep her long hair and shop for dresses, but the societal pressures on how she should act as a wife and mother are taking their toll. Ane is receiving everyone’s opinions on how she should raise her children (it is frowned upon that she has three), if she should pursue a career, and what to do with her marriage. Additionally, she is taking the brunt of her child’s criticisms from the locals and family members. It is the right thing to do as a loving and supportive mother, but it also wears on the soul, and Arnaiz portrays this sadness and stress incredibly well. It is obvious that Ane loves and supports her child, but she is still also in the beginning stages of the grieving process of acknowledging that her youngest child is her daughter and not her son, which is a journey in itself. Gabarain is a breath of fresh air as the great-aunt who says precisely what’s on her mind. Consequently, she provides our protagonist with a safe place to be themselves and even gives her the courage to use a name and pronoun that feels true to herself for the first time.

“20,000 Species of Bess” may have obvious trans imagery, such as Coco’s love for mermaids, constantly rearranging adjustable toys’ bodies, and fantasizing about having an adult female body. Still, the film is an excellent exploration of the beginning stages of coming out for a young person slowly starting to speak their experience out loud. It joins the ranks of Céline Sciamma’s “Tomboy,” Alain Berliner’s “My Life in Pink,” and Anna Kerrigan’s “Cowboys” in the slowly but growing canon of trans-coming-of-age films. Further, all three women want to be seen for who they are and not what the community presumes them to be, which makes the film universal to the cisgender population.

The film will speak to anyone who feels they are playing an artificial role in their life or in an internal war of deciding what is true to them versus what may be more comfortable for the rest of the world. As Coco’s friend states, “There are many species of bees, and they’re all good.” There are many different kinds of people – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A stunning intergenerational character study on identity, with a journey of self-discovery at the center. The three main actresses provide authentic and captivating performances.

THE BAD - For a character study, the film may seem to have a long runtime and drag in the middle. The trans imagery may be too on the nose with little need for interpretation.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Lauren LaMagna
Lauren LaMagnahttps://nextbestpicture.com
Assistant arts editor at Daily Collegian. Film & TV copy editor.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A stunning intergenerational character study on identity, with a journey of self-discovery at the center. The three main actresses provide authentic and captivating performances.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>For a character study, the film may seem to have a long runtime and drag in the middle. The trans imagery may be too on the nose with little need for interpretation.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"20,000 SPECIES OF BEES"