20,000 Species of Bees
So many films are too aware of their own noble ambitions, and some reach levels of near indignation about their virtues and how deep and meaningful it must be for an audience to watch their protagonist learn and grow from whatever conflict the story throws at them. 20,000 Species of Bees, from writer-director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren, avoids such obvious pitfalls, instead taking a soft approach to demonstrating its own honourable sentiments. However, the result is the film’s characters all behaving more or less as expected.
Eight-year-old Aitor (Sofía Otero) is easy to provoke, as his brother demonstrates. Just call him Cocó. While on holiday with his mother, Ane (Patricia López Arnaiz), and siblings on the French side of Basque Country, it becomes evident that his behavioural issues could be gender dysphoria, and Aitor (also known as Cocó) begins to use female pronouns. Could Ane’s son in fact be her daughter? Will trepidation over this unexpected and unfamiliar life path that Cocó is forging (mercifully she eventually chooses a better name) be too much for the family to cope with?
Despite the story’s dramatic impetus, this isn’t a film about transition. In any event, there will probably be someone, somewhere writing angry words on the Internet about Urresola Solaguren’s decision to cast a young cisgender girl as a boy who comes to identify as female. Any such criticism would be misdirected, and the young Sofia Otero delivers a persuasive performance.
Urresola Solaguren’s work is more concerned with the acknowledgement of the possibility that Aitor is in fact Cocó, and all that that represents. Ane is preoccupied with her own possible life changes, with her marriage in its death throes. A grandmother and a great-aunt represent different versions of the generational divide in their reactions. But these reactions, though by no means trivial, are exactly how one would expect a middle-class Western family to react to such a development. It’s satisfactory, but a little too neat.
20,000 Species of Bees is released in select UK cinemas on 27th October 2023.
Watch the trailer for 20,000 Species of Bees here: