El Sur (1983)

Reid:

El Sur (1983)

Dir. Victor Erice
current score: 80/100

I think Arlyn has a good chance of liking this (especially if she liked Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive). I could see Kevin, Chris, Penny, Grace and Mitchell liking this, too, but I’m not so confident. An enthusiastic or lukewarm response wouldn’t surprise me. I’m confident that they would think it’s worth watching, if that means anything. I’d say no to Don, Joel, Marc and Jill.

**
This is a Spanish film–set in 1950s–that plays like a personal memoir about a girl and her relationship with her father. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the film were based on a real person.) The film is divided into two sections: one, when the girl is in grade school (at the age of receiving one’s communion) and the other, as a teenager. The film is basically a coming-of-age tale centered around the relationship between daughter and father–specifically the way the path to adulthood often coincides with the awareness that your parents are complex human beings.

There are some really good things about this film, so if you want to discover the film on your own, I would not read any more of my comments. With that said, what stands out for me is the way Erice structures the story and themes and infuses both with a sense of mystery (not in the suspenseful, whodonit sense). There are also some excellent images–using natural light in interior settings.

***
Here’s how I understand the film so far. The film seems to be about the transition from loving our parents without any real understanding of them to developing an awareness of their complexity. We see the girl gain a greater awareness and understanding of a parent who was completely mysterious and unintelligible–and this awareness dovetails with the emerging complexity that arises from her interest in boys. The way Erice handles this is really good in my opinion.

If I had more time, I’d want to write about the meaning of the title, which means “the South” in Spanish. The South is refers to the region where the father grew up, so it could represent the past–which includes an estranged relationship with his father and a former lover.

In the end, the daughter, Estrella, is going to visit this region, and there’s a suggestion that she’s going to talk to her father’s former lover. This made me think that she would clear up the mystery, and it made me think the film might be about the search for truth.

 

Arlyn:

El Sur (1983)
Directed by Victor Erice
89/100

I enjoyed this movie about a father and daughter. Great cast. From the title I thought I’d see scenes from Andalusia in the South of Spain and was disappointed we didn’t get to see what would meet Estrella at the end of her train journey. I agree that the interior natural light was really nice.

“From the very beginning the story was ripe for fantasies.”

Estrella narrates as she imagines El Sur to be a strange place from what she hears. Since her father never returned, I’d hope when she departed for the South we’d at least see her father’s home and find out why he never made the journey back especially since he lived just a few hours away by train.

It felt incomplete. I’d read that the director was not finished with the film so it confirmed this. It would be nice for a second film to complete this journey since there are so many unanswered questions and possibilities. The sequel could explore her father’s past and the town he was from. Still, for an incomplete film, it’s still pretty good. Thanks for the recommendation Reid.

 

Reid:

Arlyn,

I’m a little surprised to hear El Sur felt incomplete. I assume you felt that way because we don’t see her journey to the south. I really liked where the film ended. I can’t remember all of my feelings and thoughts, but I liked the way it preserved the mystery–almost suggesting that there are some things we will never understand; at the same time, part of being human is to continue on our quest for understanding. How’d you like the lunch scene at the Grand Hotel? I loved that scene. I also loved the opening scene. There were several scenes where the light ever-so-slowly leaked into the frame, revealing objects (as in the opening scene). I can’t recall another film that did that, and I really liked it. (I never realized that Erice didn’t complete the film. I need to read up on that.)

Did you get to see Spirit of the Beehive? I’m planning to have a longer write-up soon, as I recently re-watched that.

3 Responses to “El Sur (1983)”


  1. Arlyn

    Spoilers
    When the grandmother and father’s former nanny visit, they talk about El Sur and her father and something that made him leave his childhood home. Her father made a call to an unfamiliar number in the south and Estrella placed the phone receipt in her suitcase before leaving home. Also, Estrella says something like she thought that the south was at the other end of the map.

    I thought this indicated that we’d eventually see that it wasn’t so far, that she’d look into who her father had called that fateful night and discover what had happened in her father’s past.

    There were many memorable scenes. I liked when they found the water using his pendulum which reminded me of the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novels. Loved the movie theater scenes. Yes, I liked the scene in the Grand Hotel for the story and how it related to an earlier time. And I liked seeing the intimate conversation between father and daughter as she reminded him she’s not that little girl anymore.

    …but I liked the way it preserved the mystery–almost suggesting that there are some things we will never understand; at the same time, part of being human is to continue on our quest for understanding.

    True, for the film that it is I liked it a lot. And at the same time I would have been curious to see what that quest would have looked like.

    As for Spirit of the Beehive, yes I did see this. I liked El Sur just a little more but not by much.

  2. Reid

    I thought this indicated that we’d eventually see that it wasn’t so far, that she’d look into who her father had called that fateful night and discover what had happened in her father’s past.

    And you had good reason to feel this way (although I didn’t have the same feeling). I think you will like this exchange between Erice and Geoff Andrews (from The Quiet Genius of Victor Erice):

    GA: I’d like to move on to The South, which is quite wonderful, and seems totally coherent, yet was actually never finished. You weren’t allowed to shoot everything you wanted to, and part of the story isn’t there. Was that a very painful experience for you?

    VE: Yes, it was very painful for the film itself, but of course for filmmakers this is quite common. Shooting was interrupted for financial reasons. That apart, the production went well, and even in the state it’s in, the film had a lot of commercial and critical success, especially in Spain. It should have been one hour longer, though many critics applauded the fact that the south – of Spain – was never actually seen. My taste’s a little more commonplace: I wanted to show it, especially as I was born in the north but have lived for many years further south. This was a wonderful opportunity to have north and south coming together in the film: it was a metaphor for the divisions that became apparent in the Civil War and also for the divisions in an individual who can’t reconcile two aspects of his own being.

    The father in The South is divided between two loves: his romantic passion and his mundane life with his wife. He wants to go to the south but never manages to go. He never manages to get on the train, he returns home, and he dies. But in a sense he leaves a mandate because, when he’s about to die, he leaves under his daughter’s pillow a symbol of communion. So it’s as if his last impulse is to provoke the daughter to make the trip he was never able to make – and so she does what he could never do.

    In the part that was never filmed, the girl does reach Andalusia, where her father was born and spent his childhood, so it completed the story of her father’s death. In this way she was able to reconcile herself with the image of her father. This was the original dynamic of the film. As it is now, the girl is still under the weight of the pain, whereas the visit to the south was to bring redemption and she would become an adult. I can’t say it would have been a happy film, but there would have been energy and vitality.

    Maybe Erice would have made the scenes in the South work–including the redemption and Estrella’s becoming an adult–and there’s good reason to believe he would, given what I’ve seen in his films–but I prefer not seeing those things. It leaves the film with feeling of going on a quest or journey; it also preserves the mystery of her father and this idea that there are things we can’t and won’t know. I love that.

    I liked when they found the water using his pendulum which reminded me of the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novels.

    Yeah, and especially liked the way this built into the magical and mysterious perception that Estrella has of her father. (He also works in an upper room where he’s doing important things, so he must not be disturbed.)

    Yes, I liked the scene in the Grand Hotel for the story and how it related to an earlier time. And I liked seeing the intimate conversation between father and daughter as she reminded him she’s not that little girl anymore.

    Yeah. That scene has two poignant ideas–one about missed opportunity and the other about Estrella entering into adulthood and leaving behind that magical time with her dad. I thought the way the film expressed this was so touching and poetic. The father gives Estrella the opportunity to ask whatever she wants, and she gets the courage to ask about “Irene Rios” (Laura)–the woman the father loved (or something). But then the opportunity is ultimately interrupted by the same song played at her communion–only now it’s at a real wedding (echoing the “wedding” that communion represents). I loved the way the scene mixes all of these ideas and feelings together.

    As for Spirit of the Beehive, yes I did see this. I liked El Sur just a little more but not by much.

    Same here, although I have a lot more trouble understanding Spirit and it took me a lot of effort to find meaning in it.

  3. Arlyn

    Erice sounds as heartbroken as Augustin that he didn’t get to finish this.

    It leaves the film with feeling of going on a quest or journey; it also preserves the mystery of her father and this idea that there are things we can’t and won’t know. I love that.

    I see your view and agree for the most part. I wonder why he hasn’t made a full length feature since this one in 1983. As talented a filmmaker as Erice is, I too have confidence that the second half would have left viewers content. But I would not have minded seeing that second half. He’s only 72. Here’s hoping.

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