Sunday, May 17, 2015

2015 Cannes Marathon: El Sur


(Played in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival)



Based on the short story by Adelaida Garcia Morales, El Sur (The South) is the story of a young girl living in the north of Spain who is fascinated by the country’s southern region as it relates to her father. Written for the screen and directed by Victor Erice, the film is an exploration into a young woman’s journey to know the man she called her father. Starring Omero Antonutti, Sonsoles Aranguren, Iciar Bollain, Lola Cardona, and Aurore Clement. El Sur is a ravishing and touching film from Victor Erice.

Set in the late 1940s through the late 1950s in post-war Spain in its northern regions, the film revolves around the life of a young girl and her relationship with her father as it plays into a part of Spain that her father used to live in. It’s a film that is about roots in some respects as it is told from the perspective of this young woman named Estrella (Sonsoles Aranguren as a child and Iciar Bollain as a teenager) who tries to know who her father is and why his homeland is intriguing. It is film that is mostly told from Estrella’s perspective as she reflects on her life with her father Augustin Arena (Omero Antonutti) who was a very gentle and warm man as he created a quaint and idyllic life with his wife Julia (Lola Cardona). Once the young Estrella learns a lot about her father and why he is so drawn to Spain’s southern region where it plays into not just her father’s past but also the life he once had.

The film’s screenplay has an unconventional structure as its first two acts is largely focused on the young Estrella as it plays into her youth and coming of age as she is amazed by her father. Notably as he carries a pendulum for small things which she would get later on as she also wonders what does he do in this attic. The film is largely set in this small town in north of Spain as it is a major character of the film as Estrella’s encounter with Southern Spain is through postcards as it plays more into a sense of fantasy. The story would progress into Estrella starting to learn more about her father’s past as it doesn’t just relate to his homeland but also an actress named Irene Rios (Aurore Clement) who was an old lover of Augustin. It serves an act of innocence lost where its third act revolves around the teenage Estrella who not only deals with growing pains but also this fascination for the world of Southern Spain.

Victor Erice’s direction is very understated as he doesn’t really go for anything vast in his direction but rather something that is very intimate and low-key. Shot on location in the north of Spain with a few shots in Madrid, the film does play into a world that is definitely removed from more traditional ideas of the country for something that is very rural. While Erice does use a lot of wide and medium shots, his approach to framing is very entrancing in not just where he places the actor into a frame but also in creating something that feels like a moment in time where things were much simpler. Even in his approach to close-ups and the way he manages to bring something natural into the performances of his actors such as an intimate scene between the young Estrella and her grand-aunt Milagros (Rafaela Aparicio). Erice’s direction also has some stylish usage of tracking shots and some crane shots but it’s often very low-key as it plays to things surrounding the characters.

Even in its third act as it plays into Estrella coming to terms about her father as well as dealing with the world that he left behind. Yet, it is only half the story as Erice’s intention for the film was much longer than its 95-minute presentation as a second half was to be set in the South of Spain. Due to financial and creative issues with the film’s producer Elias Querejeta, only half of the story was told. However, the final film that Erice would bring manages to be just as entrancing as well as very touching where it adds a lot of interpretation and ideas of what Estrella might encounter in this world that her father was from. In the end, Erice crafts a very evocative yet rapturous film about a young coming of age in the Northern Spain.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does incredible work with the film‘s cinematography to play into naturalistic look of the locations as many of its daytime exteriors are shot with available and natural light along with some of its interiors in day and night that have some unique lighting as it is among the film‘s highlights. Editor Pablo Gonzalez del Amo does excellent work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward as there‘s not a lot of stylish cuts but rather methodical rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Production designer Antonio Belizon does fantastic work with the look of the house known as the Seagull as it is a major character in the film that plays into the world Estrella and her family live in as well as the café that her father would go to.

Costume designer Maiki Marin does nice work with the costumes from the suits that Augustin wears to the very ordinary dresses of Estrella that plays into the sense of innocence that she would exude in her life. The sound work of Bernardo Menz is amazing for not just its approach to sparse sound textures for many of its natural locations but also in some of the scenes involving crowds and party such as a quiet lunch late in the film where a wedding party is happening in the next room. The film’s music by Enrique Granados is brilliant for its somber yet low-key orchestral score that plays into the drama along with some flamenco pieces for a few scenes and classical contributions from Maurice Ravel and Franz Schubert.

The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from Jose Vivo as a hotel barman, Maria Caso as the family cook/maid, Francisco Merino as Irene’s co-star in a film that Augustin watches, and Germaine Montero as Estrella’s grandmother who comes from the south of Spain as she brings more intrigue to Estrella. Rafaela Aparicio is wonderful as Estrella’s grand-aunt Milagros who would tell Estrella stories about her father and be the one to get him to attend Estrella’s first communion. Aurore Clement is terrific in a small role as the actress Irene Rios who is an old flame of Augustin as she only appears in a film as a femme fatale. Lola Cardona is fantastic as Augustin’s wife Julia who would also be a teacher for Estrella as she copes with not just Augustin’s sudden isolation but also with Estrella’s sudden anger towards her father.

Omero Antonutti is amazing as Augustin Arenas as a man who can create small miracles in his surroundings while being a great father but is anguished by elements of his own pasts and roots which causes him to isolate from everyone including his daughter. Finally there’s the duo of Sonsoles Aranguren and Iciar Bollain in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as the 8-year old and 15-year old Estrella. Aranguren brings a naturalistic yet enchanting approach to her performance that is very engaging and full of innocence as a young girl rocked by the secrets about her father. Bolain brings the same quality of innocence and naturalism but also a bit of angst as well as a melancholia as it relates to her father’s isolation. Adding to the performance is the voice-over narration by Maria Massip who brings an intoxicating quality to the narration as it brings a glimpse into who the adult Estrella might be.

El Sur is an exhilarating film from Victor Erice. Armed with a great cast and a fascinating story about innocence and curiosity, it’s a film that isn’t just a tender coming-of-age story. It’s also a very captivating film about a young woman’s relationship with her father. In the end, El Sur is an incredible film from Victor Erice.

Victor Erice Films: The Spirit of the Beehive - (Dream of Light)

© thevoid99 2015

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