Berlinale 2023 Review: 20,000 SPECIES OF BEES, Coming of Identity, Told With Deep Empathy
Sofía Otero, Patricia López Arnaiz, Ane Gabarain, Itziar Lazkano, Martxelo Rubio and Miguel Garcés star in Spanish director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren's feature debut.
The 2023 Berlinale hosted many
Artist Ane (Patricia López Arnaiz) takes her three kids on a summer vacation in her Spanish hometown, leaving France behind. Her husband Gorka (Martxelo Rubio) stays in France, which hints
Solaguren's debut focuses almost exclusively on Coco, tracking her movements and tantrums. The director observes the
The director cunningly keeps the audience believing Coco is just a little girl hitting yet another phase of resistance and opposition. However, her given name is male, Aitor, and she does not identify with the gender assigned at birth. At the tender age of 8 years, Coco faces an identity crisis whose deep roots do not become obvious until the child
The pastoral idyll in sun-kissed Basque Country forests turns into a coming-of-identity pursuit, as family traumas start to roll out of the closet. Solaguren introduces more
Solaguren, who wrote the script, took almost entirely the masculine agents
Different types of women from different generations interact with Coco, or Lucia, as the child came to identify herself later as. She finds the most understanding
20,000 Species of Bees is a sensitive story yet not sentimental, and the film has just the right amount of melodrama. Solaguren raises awareness about hot-button, socially thorny issues, including parental dilemmas and doubts. And she achieves it through an utterly human and immersive story that avoids the pitfalls of lecturing and didacticism.
The 125-minute-long running time does not feel outstretched, as the narrative snowballs more layers with Ane's personal crisis, marital crisis, and her child's gender dysmorphia with the social pressure and the pressure of Ane's late father, an artist who created a scandal in the sleepy hamlet, making the ordeal all the more difficult to handle the right way.
Gina Ferrer's (Biutiful, Savage Grace) cinematography of civil realism
Ferrer does not keep a distance from the characters
Lukas Dhont's most recent work, Close, may come to mind as an LGBTQ+ drama from the perspective of a child. However, where Dhont wallows too much in the emotional states of the protagonist becoming over-sensitive, Solaguren focuses on the plotting. A rich yet transparent variety of topics and subjects adds a literary texture to 20,000 Species of Bees in terms of motifs, leitmotifs, and implicit plots.
The closest points of reference to Solaguren's debut are the works of Céline Sciamma (Petite Maman, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), both tonal and
Solaguren's oeuvre is the little big cinema, a story of a child carving its own fate (and in that case also her mother's fate) against a family history in a longer narrative arch with deeply emphatic storytelling. Even though 20,000 Species of Bees might have been called a trans story, a term too politically laden, the film transcends the typical narrow category of a transistion tale.
The coming-of-age, coming-of-identity tale carries a side plot of the coming-of-middle-age story in a vibrant, occasionally melodramatic but powerful introspection of different shades of womanhood.
Sofía Otero won the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance; 20,000 Species of Bees received the Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas, and the Berliner Morgenpost Reader’s Jury Award.