20,000 Species Of Bees ***
Starring: Sofía Otero, Patricia López Arnaiz, Ane Gabarain
Director: Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren
Though some films do exist about the experiences of children growing up trans - Tomboy, Ma Vie En Rose – none have yet broken through to the mainstream. 20,000 Species Of Bees is the newest independent European film to put this exceptionally topical issue in the spotlight, but it doesn’t quite rise to the heights of these earlier films.
Lucía (Otero) is eight years old, growing up with a loving family. Assigned male at birth, Lucía has been allowed to express her female gender by her mother (López Arnaiz). Despite this, the family are still acclimatising to Lucía’s identity, trying to understand what a young child is unable to find the words to express. On a family holiday together, the young girl begins to understand just how different she is, so the family has to pull together to support her, even if they do not fully understand themselves.
A tender and nuanced film, the narrative centres around the mother – Ane – in a profoundly sensitive and subtle performance by Patricia López Arnaiz. The relationship between mother and daughter is profoundly moving, with Ane determined to support Lucía no matter what. Despite struggling with her own marital problems, she can see that supporting her daughter through this most crucial stage of her life is the most important thing in the world.
Similarly, Lucía’s relationship with her grandmother (Gabarain) – who, despite being profoundly Catholic, loves her granddaughter unconditionally – is beautifully moving. The obstacles in her way come from the society around her, whose constant questions and invasive curiosity lead to the girl’s crippling self-doubt. In a particularly poignant moment, Lucía asks her grandmother why she had to be born this way, but is reassured that “God created us perfect” by the overwhelmingly compassionate matriarch.
The film is long, clocking in at over two hours. Taking a hyper-real - almost documentary-esque – approach, the film slowly unfolds the complexity of a family dealing with a trans child. However, the pacing severely suffers as it moves at a sometimes glacial pace, particularly as we observe Lucía and her family tending bees at their summer home. This titular metaphor is bled dry through overlong sequences that feel redundant and overwrought, especially as they sit alongside other over-written scenes that severely drag their feet.
The story at the centre of 20,000 Species Of Bees is strong enough to make this a compelling and emotive piece, but it could easily have been improved by an editor strong enough to hem this neatly around its fraying edges.
UK Release: 27th October 2023 in cinemas and on VOD, released by Curzon