Based on Adelaida García Morales’ short story El sur, this 1983 film version was voted one of the best Spanish films ever made. Directed by Morales’ then-partner, the celebrated director Victor Erice (The Spirit of the Beehive) it tells the story of the adult Estrella as she thinks back to her childhood in Northern Spain, her memories of her mythical (to Estrella at least) and emotionally withdrawn father, Agustin, his complex relationship with the south of the country and his own hidden history.
Agustin was forced to leave the south due to his opposition of the dictator Franco’s regime and fractious relationship to his father, and since then lived not only in a literal exile from his home but also a self-imposed inner exile from those around him, stranded in his past. The family lived in a farm house away from other people at the edge of the city, and Estrella and her mother Julia endured this physical isolation and his emotional distance from them both.
The film begins on the morning 15-year old Estrella awoke to discover her father had disappeared. Estrella had been infatuated with her father and the mystery of his Southern years and the film tells of how Estrella came to learn that her father was flawed and that he had his own infatuation, something that shades her previously uncomplicated idolisation of him. El Sur is a film about memory and the gulf between what we imagine life to be and the reality of life as it is, and the painful discoveries of childhood as we come to realise our parents are humans too.
This is one of those instances where a film takes what was written evocatively for the page and truly brings it to life for the cinema. Erice, his director of photography Jose Luis Alcaine and cameraman Alfredo Mayo collaborate here to produce an intensely beautiful movie. Precisely using light and shade, composition of shot and direction, El Sur is remarkable viewing. Assisted by standout performances from the two young actresses portraying Estrella at age 8 and 15, and Omero Antonutti as Agustin, this is an evocative and moving experience.
Apparently intended to be 3 hours in length, production was halted by producer Elias Querejeta when funding changed and so we don’t get the final act of the film, which means this could be considered an unfinished film. That doesn’t mean that what we have here isn’t eminently worthwhile and fully formed as it is, and as mentioned earlier, it is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema, something we would readily agree with. An almost perfect example of cinematic storytelling at its finest, in a great BFI presentation.
Special Features: Video Essay on the films of Victor Erice / Victor Erice Interview / Theatrical Re-Release Trailer / illustrated Booklet
EL SUR (1983) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: VÍCTOR ERICE / SCREENPLAY VÍCTOR ERICE, ADELAIDA GARCÍA MORALES / STARRING: OMERO ANTONUTTI, SONSOLES ARANGUREN, ICÍAR BOLLAÍN / RELEASE DATE: 23RD JANUARY