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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • Spanish PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Interview from 2003 with director Víctor Erice
  • New piece on the making of the film, featuring interviews from 2012 with actors Omero Antonutti, Sonsoles Aranguren, and Icíar Bollaín; cinematographer José Luis Alcaine; and camera operator Alfredo Mayo
  • Episode of ¡Qué grande es el cine! from 1996, featuring film critics Miguel Marías, Miguel Rubio, and Juan Cabos discussing El Sur
  • An essay by novelist and critic Elvira Lindo
  • A new edition of the 1985 novella by Adelaida García Morales on which the film is based

El Sur

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Víctor Erice
1983 | 95 Minutes | Licensor: Video Mercury

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #927
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: June 19, 2018
Review Date: June 18, 2018

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SYNOPSIS

Ten years after making his mark on Spanish cinema with The Spirit of the Beehive, Víctor Erice returned to filmmaking with this adaptation of a novella by Adelaida García Morales, which deepens the director’s fascination with childhood, fantasy, and the legacy of his country’s civil war. In the North of Spain, Estrella grows up captivated by her father, a doctor with mystical powers—and by the enigma of his youth in the South, a near-mythical region whose secrets seem to haunt him more and more as time goes on. Though Erice’s original vision also encompassed a long section set in the South itself, which was never made, El Sur remains an experience of rare perfection and satisfaction, drawing on painterly cinematography by José Luis Alcaine to evoke the enchantments of memory and the inaccessible, inescapable mysteries of the past.


PICTURE

Víctor Erice’s El Sur comes to the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray, presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation has been sourced from a new 2K restoration, which was sourced from a 35mm low-contrast print made directly from the original A/B roll negative. The notes also mention that an older transfer supervised by Erice was used for reference in regards to colour correction.

The cinematography for the film is remarkable, gorgeous from start to finish, creating some of the most striking and haunting images thanks to its use of shadow and light, and Criterion’s final presentation does it all justice. There’s a lot of shadow in this film, with light only highlighting the edges of people or objects at times, but these sequences look sharp and brilliant thanks to the clean and inky looking black levels present. The colour scheme of the film is muted, so this aspect rarely pops, but there are a few flourishes of red and orange (the latter sometimes in the lighting) which are rather intense compared to the duller backgrounds.

The encode is superb itself, rendering film grain beautifully and naturally. The image is sharp for the most part, but there are a few spots early on that look a little softer in comparison to other areas, though this does seem inherent to the source. Outside of these couple of moments, though, the image is impressive in the level of detail it manages to deliver, even in its many longer shots of the landscape. On top of that the restoration has cleaned this up thoroughly, nothing significant ever showing up. In the end it’s just a superb looking image.

9/10

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AUDIO

The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural presentation is a bit flat and can get a wee bit harsh when it tries to reach for some higher moments, but generally it sounds clean and is easy on the ears, with no audible damage or any signs of distortion.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Not a packed edition but it’s remarkably thorough in the handful of material it does have. One significant aspect about the film is that, despite working as a complete film, it’s technically unfinished. Erice had managed to secure funding from Televisión Española (apparently with the promise of broadcast rights) and had a significantly longer film planned, with the last half of the film taking the protagonist, Estrella, down to the southern part of Spain. Erice had filmed just about everything he needed for the first half of the film (which takes place in the north) to only find out that the rest of the funding had been pulled (there are differing accounts about why this happened but the consensus is that new management just didn’t feel like funding the rest of it).

Despite the unfortunate outcome the story behind the production is fascinating, and a lot of the details around this are covered in the features here, starting with a 2003 interview with Erice for a television program. For 21-minutes he explains the circumstances surrounding the production and then his having to rework the film with the footage he had. He was, thankfully, at least able to film one important shot to give the film the closure it probably would have sorely lacked. To his amazement the film was well accepted and highly praised, even doing well in his native Spain, but despite all of this he still considers it unfinished, and his hopes of maybe filming that last half of the film (which he was sure would have been possible thanks to the first part’s success) were killed off swiftly shortly afterwards. You can tell that, despite decades passing, this is still heartbreaking for the filmmaker, and this comes through even more when he explains how the last half would have played out. It can feel a bit morose for an interview but it’s an essential addition.

Also decent is a 24-minute making-of documentary, that, according to the notes, has appeared elsewhere but has been re-edited for this edition, and it features interviews with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, actors Omero Antonutti, Sonsoles Aranguren and Icíar Bollaín, and camera operator Alfredo Mayo. It is, in the end, a standard talking-heads documentary, covering how everyone became involved with the project while also covering the film’s production problems. But the most valuable contribution probably comes from Alcaine on how he captured the look of the film, which, much to my astonishment, was not how the film was originally planned to look.

Criterion has then dug up a 1996 episode of ¡Que Grande es el Ciné!, which aired around a broadcast of El Sur, hosted by Jose Luis Garci and featuring interviews with critics Miguel Marias, Miguel Rubio, and Juan Cobos. During the 11-minute introduction the group talk briefly about the film, with mention of its production history, before cutting to what I assume is the airing. We then jump to an even more in-depth discussion about the film, key moments within it and its style, which has more in common with films from Ozu and Mizoguchi than films from other Spanish filmmakers. They then segue into some discussion about Erice’s inspirations and then talk a bit more about the director’s other work. Cobos also recounts an interview he conducted with Erice about the film’s original ending and recounts that here (pretty much repeating what we heard Erice say in the earlier interview), and the four talk about what the film may have been with this added portion. At 61-minutes the discussion can feel a bit long but it’s a passionate one, and covers material that more than likely would have been covered in any other academic feature.

Criterion then includes an insert featuring a (translated) essay on the film by Elvira Lindo. But the best and most valuable inclusion is a 44-page booklet that contains the original novella by Adelaida García Morales on which the film is based. The story moves quite briskly, thanks a lot to the first-person narrative that feels more like it is a letter being written to the narrator’s father, which leads to it feeling a bit different in tone in comparison to Erice’s film. What will be of substantial interest, though, is the last quarter of the story, which is what would have made up the original conclusion for Erice’s film. Criterion provides a wonderful set of features for this release but the inclusion of the story is easily the best addition.

8/10

CLOSING

It’s a sharp release with a stunning presentation and a varied set of features that cover the film from many perspectives, even going as far as including the original source story. Very highly recommended.


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