Cast & Crew
In the 1950s, a young girl dreams of The South, location of a father she can never quite pin down except in her imagination.
Jose Garcia Murilla
Jost Luis Alcaine
Pablo G Del Amo
Adelaida Garcia Morales
Ana M Infante
Jose Luis Lopez-linares
Francisco Lucio Ramos
Maurice Joseph Ravel
El Sur begins with a shot of a window as night turns to dawn, in a Spanish village in 1957. An adolescent girl, Estrella, is awakened by the sounds of dogs barking in the distance, and the alarmed voice of her mother calling for her husband Agustin. Under her pillow, Estrella finds her father's pendulum, which he wore on a chain around his neck, and realizes that he's gone for good. The film then unfolds in flashback, with Estrella describing how her family ended up in this village, and her attempt to understand her mysterious, moody physician father Agustin. The specter of the Spanish Civil War, which divided the country in the late 1930s, haunts both the film and Agustin, who supported the leftist Republic, while his father backed Franco's right-wing Nationalists. The family rift may be the reason Augustin left his native Andalusia in southern Spain with his wife and daughter, to live and work in the north. He has never returned, but longs for it. Estrella knows little of his history. A cigar box filled with tinted, turn-of-the century postcards of the south fascinates her, the images providing a romanticized vision of a magical place, the opposite of the cold, bleak north. As the film progresses, she finds out more.
Based on a novella by Adelaida Garcia Morales, El Sur was intended to be a longer film (or possibly a miniseries, since a television network had contributed financing) which would continue the story, with Estrella traveling to Andalusia and uncovering and reconciling the family secrets. But producer Elias Querejeta abruptly shut down production after location shooting was completed in northern Spain, shortly before the cast and crew were scheduled to begin shooting in the south. The producer claimed he ran out of money because the network backed out, but some sources say there was friction between producer and director, and that Querejeta felt Erice was working too slowly. Erice was nevertheless able to make a complete, coherent, and quite beautiful film out of what he had already shot, and El Sur was released to critical acclaim. But to this day, the director regrets what was lost. In a 2003 interview with British film historian Geoff Andrew, Erice noted the irony: "many critics applauded the fact that the south...was never actually seen. My taste's a little more commonplace: I wanted to show it....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."
Andrew calls Erice "one of the contemporary cinema's most eloquent poets." Others compare his visual style to Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Erice himself has expressed his admiration for the aesthetic of F.W. Murnau and Josef von Sternberg. Erice's own films seem painterly, and have been compared to the use of light by artists like Vermeer and Velazquez. His El Sur cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine adds Caravaggio and and Rembrandt to that list. And Erice's eloquence in also extends to the silent communication between father and daughter.
Like his previous film, the magical The Spirit of the Beehive, made in 1973, El Sur has as its main character a solemn, observant, imaginative child--in this case, played by two young actresses, Sonsoles Aranguren, who plays Estrella at age eight, and Iciar Bollain, the same character at 15. Both are superb in the film, and both remembered the experience fondly and vividly years later. Bollain continued to act, and also became an award-winning director and writer.
With just two fiction feature films and one documentary feature, El Sol Del Membrillo (1992) to his credit, made at ten-year intervals, Erice continues to work on documentary shorts, which he's said he'll screen when he's finished ten of them. But unlike his contemporary (who also has a scant filmography), the famously reclusive Terrence Malick, Erice remains accessible and active in the film world. He has taught workshops, served on film festival juries, written film criticism, given interviews and appears at screenings of his work. And he remains an avid cinephile. When he received a career achievement award at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival, Erice said, "Film has been the existential fact of my life."
When El Sur was finally shown in the U.S. in 1988, Dave Kehr wrote in the Chicago Tribune, "For Erice, the cinema is supremely the site where the real and the imagined come together, where the past and the present co-exist. If he makes so few movies, it may be because, for him, moviemaking is a magical act, to be approached with respect and trepidation--a conjuring up of sleeping spirits."
Director: Victor Erice
Producer: Elias Querejeta
Screenplay: Jose Luis Lopez Linares, based on a story by Adelaida Garcia Morales
Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Editor: Pablo G. del Amo
Costume Design: Maiki Marin
Art Direction: Antonio Belizon
Music: Enric Granados
Principal Cast: Omero Antonutti (Agustin), Sonsoles Aranguren (Estrella, age 8), Iciar Bollain (Estrella, age 15), Lola Cardona (Julia), Rafaela Aparicio (Milagros), Germaine Montero (Dona Rosario), Aurore Clement (Irene Rios/Laura), Francisco Merino (Irene Rios's co-star), Maria Caro (Casilda)
by Margarita Landazuri
Released in United States Winter January 15, 1988
Released in United States March 1985
Released in United States December 1995
Released in United States Winter January 15, 1988
Released in United States March 1985 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (International Cinema) March 14-31, 1985.)
Released in United States December 1995 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "Spanish Cinema Now!" December 8-21, 1995.)