El Sur/The South ****Dir: Victor Erice. With: Omero Antonutti, Sonsoles Aranguren, Icíar Bollaín, Lola Cardona. 95 mins. Cert: PG
Here’s a vivid rediscovery. Ten years after 1973’s now-canonical The Spirit of the Beehive, Victor Erice made this richly rewarding 1950s-set drama, which feels very much like an extension of its predecessor’s chief narrative concern – a child’s curiosity around a figure who might be a giant, a monster, or merely a man. Rather than Frankenstein’s creature, eight-year-old Estrella (Sonsoles Aranguren) is beholden to a charismatic doctor father (Omero Antonutti) who divines water between unexplained spells in seclusion. He could represent any number of patrician leaders, but Erice’s handling proves more intimate than allegorical, beckoning us into Vermeer-like compositions – and the cinema once again – while the older Estrella’s narration attempts to fathom out (and forgive) her padre, much as post-Franco Spain was reconciling itself with its own past. Another hour was planned before funding was cut, yet the ellipses only add to its hushed, haunting mystery: even in its “unfinished” state, the final movement is little short of heartbreaking.
El Sur/The South is now playing in selected cinemas.