Film Review

El Sur

todayMarch 2, 2023 70

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By Gareth Jones

For fans of “slow” cinema, Spanish film, photo-lyric realism or poetic realism

Last week on Sleep In Cinema we talked about Victor Erice and his masterpiece Spirit of the Beehive. However, we could not help ourselves and also talked about his second film, which is equally a masterpiece. Released in 1983, ten years after Spirit, El Sur is an adaptation of the short novel of the same name by Adelaida García Morales.  It is a coming of age story but unlike Spirit we get to follow the young girl into her teen years as she processes the challenges of the world, especially the world of her father.  Few films capture the relationship between a father and daughter better than Erice.  The protagonist here, Estrella, worships her father but is concerned about his disappearances and melancholic moods.  Like Beehive, Erice is delving into the painful psyche of the Spanish intellectuals during the fascist regime of Franco.  However, it is also a truly universal tale that is common in all cultures, the relationship between father and daughter.  Of special note is the astonishing cinematography of José Luis Alcaine who masterfully captures poetic realism. The image of the father smoking in the bed is as beautiful as any painting to me. Equally special are the performances of Sonsoles Aranguren as the younger Estrella and Icíar Bollaín as the teenage Estrella.  As seen in Beehive, few directors can get performances so natural and real as Victor Erice.

The film was actually stopped short of being completed by the famous Spanish producer, Elías Querejeta.  The second half of the film was to be dedicated to Estrella’s journey to the South to unravel the mystery of her father’s life.  Victor Erice would have liked to finish it and considers it to be an incomplete film.  However, many critics including our amazing guest Sarah Valentin Sanchez make a strong case that the ambiguity and mystery of the film is what makes it so effective and a true masterpiece.  It is tragic that his reputation was damaged by the producer who started the rumor that Erice went over budget or was not in control. Of course, we will never know what that completed film would look like, but like the comparable filmmaker Terrence Malick, it may be the lack of production that makes Victor Erice’s films all the more meaningful and perfect.  

Available to stream on the larger platforms and on the Criterion Channel

Written by: Gareth Jones

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