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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'20,000 Species Of Bees' Review: Identity Is To Bee Found, It Is Not To Bee Lost | HIFF 2023

Sofía Otero wearing a beekeeping suit

Have you heard the buzz about this one? Okay, that was way too easy but sometimes you have to take an easy-going and a lighter approach when talking about something as heavy on one's heart as 20,000 Species Of Bees (20.000 especies de abejas in Spanish). Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren directs and writes the coming-of-age drama as her feature-length debut, following a child on a quest for well-being. Eight-year-old Lucía (other names are also used to refer to the character, though only this one is featured in the end credits), played by Sofía Otero, goes to stay at a remote family home during a summer break alongside her mom Ane (Patricia López Arnaiz) and brother Eneko (Unax Hayden). Surrounded and often supported by other women and kids in the family, Lucía is exploring her identity as a transgender girl.

Before you even get to directing children, many who seem to be first-time-performers, there's also a lot of danger in that premise no matter if you're looking at the subject matter through a warmer or more clinical, colder lens. It's probably safe to say that Urresola decides to use the former to analyse Lucía and people surrounding her but the filmmaker thankfully doesn't go the easy route here and moralise every single decision or action in the film and lets some things linger before their collective weight makes an impact, as is often the case in life. Urresola's script also doesn't rely on dramatising certain story beats just to amp up tension or conflict, instead it approaches Lucía with nuance about space she requires or is willing to let go in order to grow herself and form healthy relationships with some of her family members.

What makes it all even sweeter is that luckily you also don't have to worry about the child performances since the casting personnel (no real person or people have been credited for this, something that surely is a mistake) and Urresola have found a remarkable, mesmerising young talent in Otero and have paired her up with reliably solid López to establish the heart of the story. Captured with fine natural light and delicate framing by cinematographer Gina Ferrer García, Otero never loses the childlike sense of wonder in her performance even when Lucía is struggling with more mature emotions or questions her own validity.

Urresola is noticeably still refining her style as a director as evidenced by some awkward blocking and staging of scenes where the focus is on bodies when the subtext is about a mental state but ''20,000'' is nevertheless a strong debut with an even stronger central performance grounding it in a way that resonates with you. The ending of the film again doesn't drop the ball by way of overdramatising or painting a fake smile over a complicated situation. It's about existing in the beauty that only you can control, shift and shape.

Smileys: Sofía Otero, screenplay, ending

Frowneys: Nothing too disappointing

Bee prepared (to feel).


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