20,000 Species of Bees

Reviewed by Roger Gook

The film shown last Sunday at the Keswick Film Club – "20,000 Species of Bees" - is a coming-of-age story which explored the relationship between gender and identity from the point of view of a young boy and his mother. The film looked at love, support and acceptance within the family, even though there were great problems.

The idea for the film came to the director from a story about Ekai, a 16-year-old trans boy. He was born as a girl but from the age of five he claimed to be a boy. In 2018, he committed suicide despite having the support of his family. The image of Ekai's father reading a farewell letter to his son struck the director deeply. The director has said that she has tried to offer to the audience a similar experience, the opportunity to approach the intimacy of a family dealing with this situation in the most naturalistic way.

Bees and their hives were used throughout the film as a symbol of a female community, supporting each other within their roles. The film was set in the Basque country of Northern Spain where bees traditionally have a close synergy with humans. One effective scene had the boy invoking the bees in his transition by telling he was now to be called Lucia, but some of the other symbolism became rather clunky.

The film was beautifully acted, sensitive and gave all the characters space to tell different stories. But the naturalistic approach became a rather rambling tour around a difficult and complex topic with no sense of a resolution to the journey.

The director seemed very concerned to produce a quietly thoughtful piece about the often painful and complicated subject. This would then be a contrast to the often strident, and sometimes hateful and prejudiced, discussion, but she found herself rather paralysed, leading to a film that was too long and arrived nowhere very clearly.

The film was lacking in narrative coherence or cohesion despite its obvious good intention. The naturalistic style of hopping from one ambiguous frame to an equally unconnected frame left the viewer scrabbling to get hold of the story.