I’ve mentioned Spirit of the Beehive on this blog a whole bunch of times so it’s about time I write about another Victor Erice film – the less popular (and lesser, in my opinion, despite multiple online synopses to the contrary) El Sur.
Not unlike Spirit, a young girl figures prominently into the film. Estrella (played as a young girl by Sonsoles Aranguren and then as a teenager by Iciar Bollain) is obsessed with her father, Agustin (Omero Antonutti). He has a mysterious background, is quietly confident, and has claims on “powers” (mostly involving discovering the depth of water via a series of weights) that arouse the interest of other townspeople as well. El Sur is non-linear, and begins with the end of the father-daughter relationship, before, via Estrella’s voiceover, working backwards in time to see the sweet, nostalgic, and melancholy memoir unfold.
There are some truly gorgeous moments in El Sur. Erice and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine (Erice’s Spirit DP Luis Cuadrado died in 1980 – perhaps the reason he’s not behind the lighting on this project; Alcaine is Almodovar’s regular DP) start with a gorgeous lighting cue. Watch the beginning of this clip as Estrella is slowly illuminated:
Erice uses several of these in the film. Maybe it’s a simple fade up and I can’t see it, though the way the light falls it seems to be something different (slowly dimming a light up?)).
If I have one major complaint of El Sur it’s that the film doesn’t stay in Estrella’s POV the whole time. There are small moments – for example, when a teenage Estrella and her father go to an impromptu lunch – where Erice chooses to momentarily stray from the girl. This short scene – her father splashing water on his face in the bathroom – breaks the focalization and seems to somehow detract from the childlike sense of wonder: we’re allowed to see his moment of weakness and she’s not.
Erice’s use of sound is awesome in here. In that same scene we’ve heard the off-screen sounds of a wedding throughout father and daughter conversation. At the end Estrella goes to the door and the camera rises to reveal the celebration on the other side:
It’s not Estrella’s “true” POV, but it’s implied that it’s her imagination of the beauty just beyond and out of her reach. In general, Erice really knows how to use sound – the chain and wheel of a bicycle on a wet street, a distant car sound – all of these add up to fill an otherwise delicate world.