7 February 2017

THE BFI PRESENTS: EL SUR or THE SOUTH. (1983) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




EL SUR or THE SOUTH. (1983) BASED ON A SHORT STORY BY ADELAIDA GARCIA MORALES. DIRECTED BY VICTOR ERICE.
STARRING SONSOLES ARANGUREN, ICIAR BOLLAIN, OMERO ANTONUTTI, LOLA CARDONA, GERMAINE MONTERO AND RAFAELA APARICIO. VOICE-OVER BY MARIA MASSIP.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This Spanish language film is apparently one of famous director Pedro Almodovar's favourite movies, and it's not hard to see why. The funny thing about the film is that it was meant to be a three-hour-long epic, but the producer called a halt to production halfway through, leaving us with a film just over ninety minutes long.

And yet what's left is still perfect, a fully-formed film that lingers in the memory long after the credits have rolled. The even funnier thing is, if you weren't told about the troubled production and the film being cut off in its prime, you'd never notice the difference, that's how little difference it makes to the finished product, if you get me.

It's a slow, quiet story told from the viewpoint of a little Spanish girl. It's a story of two halves, almost, some of it taking place in 1950 when the child is eight, the rest in 1957 when she's fifteen.

Estrella (isn't that a beautiful name?) is a perceptive, thoughtful kind of child, the kind you don't see nowadays, not now that we have computer games and Smartphones and social media and back-talk and suchlike, haha. This kid likes playing quietly and actually listening when people talk. Stranger and stranger!

Estrella's family, the Arenas family, live in a gorgeous old isolated house in the North of Spain, somewhere between the country and the town. Their garden and the surrounding scenery are each breath-takingly beautiful, but no-one in the household seems really happy.

Estrella's relationship with her father is the central theme of the film. Agustin is a middle-aged doctor, very quiet with a wry sense of humour that occasionally rears its head. He's often distant, however, towards his wife Julia and his daughter, and has been known to pull disappearing acts, of which I strongly disapprove. Real men don't run away from their families...!

Papa also doesn't speak about his home in the titular South of Spain and the father he no longer has contact with, or his memories of the Spanish Civil War in which he clearly played a part, or anything about his past. He's very closed-off about that part of him, a fact that both intrigues and irritates Estrella, who's naturally curious about her Dad and all the things he did before he knew her.

It annoyed me that Estrella is so obviously adoring of her emotionally absent father, when her hard-working and worried mother is the one who's right there taking care of her, but isn't that always the way? Girls think the sun shines out of their dads, even when these dads have feet of clay as Agustin almost certainly does and the mums are the ones who actually do all the work.

Dad acts as a water diviner for the locals too, something which only adds weight to Estrella's vision of him as a man who can do anything, even magic. Those are some rose-coloured glasses she's got on there, though to be fair her mum Julia encourages these notions somewhat and also the idea that Dad needs to be left alone in peace and quiet all the time and Estrella's not to bother him. Talk about mysticising Dad and making some kind of idol out of him! I heartily disapprove.

One or two important things happen in the film. Estrella's First Holy Communion brings her father's mother and his childhood carer from the mysterious and mystical 'South' to the Arenas family home. This is Estrella's first connection with the heavily mysticised El Sur since she moved North with her parents some years ago. Estrella's dance with her father after the Communion ceremony is both moving and maybe, in some way, a pivotal part of her childhood.

Estrella tries to talk to dear old Milagros, the aforementioned childhood carer, about her father but even that garrulous old lady doesn't know all of Agustin's secrets. She certainly doesn't know, for example, about his former relationship with a beautiful woman (not his wife!) which he would almost
certainly like to rekindle, or else why would he write her name over and over on a piece of paper, which paper Estrella later finds and puzzles over? Agustin is a deep and closed-off man. Can there be a happy ending there, for any of them...?

This is such a visually stunning and emotionally moving film, you'll want to cherish the memory of it forever. Even if you don't, I think it'll probably haunt you anyway, and I mean that in a good way! Both actresses who play Estrella at eight and fifteen do a wonderful job, and I personally love all the cinema/old movie star bits, they evoke such a marvellous nostalgia.

I also think the film's an excellent example of what happens when you mysticise a subject or don't talk about it ever. It becomes the elephant in the room, or all you can think about, ironically! Estrella's father's past is the aforementioned elephant in this case, and his non-discussion of the subject just causes it to assume more importance in Estrella's mind as a result. 

We all probably have things we prefer not to talk about, but this film certainly made me think about what the results can be if we continually bottle stuff up.

EL SUR is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD courtesy of the British Film Institute, and it comes with some excellent special features. These include an audio interview with the director that's a whopping eighty-three minutes long and a fully-illustrated booklet featuring essays on the film and full movie credits. 

Car chases and explosions EL SUR doesn't have. Atmosphere, beauty and an overwelming feeling of loss and pain, past and present, it has in spades. I know which I prefer. (Because apparently I'm a film snob now, haha...!)

BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop. Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com











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