El Sur – The South

Fascinating in many ways.

Released in 1983, this is half of what director Víctor Erice  (The Spirit of the Beehive) originally envisaged. It would appear that financial issues prevented filming the full script, and the director was left to make what he could from what had been filmed.

And while, at the end, there is a definite feeling that there is more to come, the film which exists is exquisite in its simplicity and lacks nothing.

The focus of the story is Estrella, a young girl observing the unhappiness in her parents’ marriage without truly understanding the depths of the situation. Things happen elsewhere, or in the past, and both we and Estrella only understand them through what is told to us, never seen by us. It captures beautifully the innocence and semi-understanding of youth, against the backdrop of domesticity and the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.

The colour palette is drab, reflecting a very different Spain from the one we perhaps expect – the Spain of the South (El Sur). Estrella also has dreams of what the South (her father’s birthplace) is like, and we have glimpses of this through visits from relatives with their strange accent, and picture postcards of flamenco dancing and flowers. We have none of that in the cold, wet, constantly autumnal north, which sits so perfectly with Estrella’s attempts to understand her father’s unhappiness.

Estrella is played in her teenage years by Icíar Bollaín, whose work as director of También la Lluvia I’ve admired since first seeing it; I hadn’t realised she was also an actress!

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