El Sur

May 2, 20238:30pm
Post-screening Q&A with Spanish cinema expert Professor Peter Evans

Victor Erice is little known outside Spain despite the plaudits earned by his 1973 debut, The Spirit of the Beehive. In part this is because he has only made 3 feature-length films. El Sur was his follow-up, and arguably his masterpiece, though the finished film is only half of what he planned, the producers having got cold feet. Though truncated, this is a complete story that echoes some of the themes of his debut, such as the legacy of Franco, but further develops a lyricism that would influence many other film-makers, such as Pedro Almodovar and Guillermo del Toro. In fact, El Sur only got it’s belated UK release in 2016 due to the BFI screening a programme of Almodovar’s favoutite Spanish films.

El Sur is a portrait of the artist as a young girl (the influence of Joyce is notable), a modernist tale that contrasts an emerging consciousness with the inability to fully comprehend the motivations of others. It’s 1950s Spain. Estrella’s middle-class parents have reluctantly moved from Seville to a chilly, unnamed town in the north. We do not know if Agustin, her father (Antonutti), was exiled because of Civil War politics, an unhappy love affair or a simple falling out with his own father. All are alluded to.

Estrella (Aranguren and Bollaín at different ages) sees no mystery in her mother Julia (Cardona) and even when she discovers, through an old letter, that her father had a previous love for whom he still pines, she shows more interest in the off-stage Laura (Clément), an actress who adopted the stage name Irene Rios, than she does in her mother’s attitude to her father. Despite this, it is Julia, along with a number of other female characters, who gradually educates Estrella in the ways of the heart.

This is a simple and moving cinema language, whose serenity belies the rich complexity of its visual construction and its mastery of the themes of childhood, memory and loss. A masterpiece, haunted by itself.” John Patterson, Guardian.

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Film Information
Release year: 1983
Running time:   95 mins
Directed by: Victor Erice
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain
Classification: PG
Genre: Drama
Starring: Omero Antonutti,
Sonsoles Aranguren,
Icíar Bollaín,
Aurore Clément,
Maria Masip,
Lola Cardona,
Rafaela Aparicio

Gold Hugo at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival
More info:

Rotten Tomatoes
WFC Audience Score:  68%

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