El SurOverview -
El Sur comes to Criterion with a new 1080p HD transfer and its original mono 1.0 soundtrack. This 1983 film follows a young girl at three stages in her life as she journeys to find more about her father and his mysterious and secret ways. It's a magnificent film with few, but great bonus features from Criterion. Highly Recommended!
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.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Lost in the midst of a sea of cinema comes a brilliant and subtle Spanish film titled El Sur, which was released in 1983 and was directed by Victor Erice. This was Erice's second film, but perhaps his most remembered and talked about, as a lot of us can relate to this story in some form or fashion. The way it's told through the eyes of a woman in three stages of her life and the fantastic and realistic characters she encounters along the way make El Sur a brilliant piece of movie history.
Even the way El Sur is filmed has a serene quality to it in that most of the film has a somber yet comfortable look throughout it all, as each frame might be an elegant painting on the wall. El Sur follows a Spanish family that centers on Estrella, who is the daughter. Estrella yearns for her father's attention, yet her father is distant and seems to not always be around -- both physically and mentally.
One day, Estrella finds an illustration of a woman in her parents' attic, and thus begins her journey in more than one way to find out who her father and this mysterious woman in the picture really are. As Estrella goes further into her journey, she sees and hears less from her father, who is not necessarily a bad guy. She just wants to find out what makes him tick, which is I think a trait all of us kids want to know about our parents. The way the movie is shot is very atmospheric that takes you to an almost fantasy-type of place with it's vague coloring and subtle actions.
The musical score by the Spanish piano legend Enrique Granados brings a whole new feel and emotional tone to the film as well. Interestingly enough, El Sur had almost two more months to film with only about 75% of the movie made, so it's up to us to decide what really happens at the end. The result is 95 minutes of an excellent movie that has moved audiences for a number of years and continues to do so.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
El Sur comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Criterion. There is a Criterion booklet that is fully illustrated, which includes cast and crew information, tech specs, and an essay by Elvira Lindo. There is also the 44-page novella by Adelaida García Morales, which was the inspiration for the movie. This release comes with Spine #927. The disc and booklets are housed in a hard clear plastic case.
El Sur comes with a 1080p HD transfer and according to the Criterion booklet, is in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution from a 35mm low contrast print made from the original negative. A previous transfer that was supervised by the director was referenced for this color grading. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, warps, and splices were manually removed as well.
The image looks outstanding on every level. The colors are magnificent and just accentuate the muted color palette even more with a bit of fantastical elements throughout. It's ultimately satisfying. It's a very earthy movie with tons of greens, blues, and browns, which in when light shines down upon them and brightens up the scene in dream-like ways. Black levels are always deep and inky and skin tones are natural, too. The filmic quality is spot on and gives way to the natural look of majestic portraits and paintings that should be hanging on walls.
The detail is sharp and vivid as well that reveals facial features and stitching in costumes nicely. Each freckle and individual hair can be seen easily on the actress' face, in addition to the weathered pieces of furniture and blips of nature. There are no issues with banding, aliasing, or video noise in this great video presentation.
This release comes with the original Spanish DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix with English subtitles. According to the Criterion booklet, the original mono soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm print, where clicks, thumps, hiss, crackles, and hums were manually removed. While the track is serviceable and in its original state, it would have been nice to have Criterion do a complete remaster of this track, mainly because the audio can be tin-canny in places where the high dynamics almost seem blown out.
I get that this is source material, but in this case we could have used some help. Some of the higher notes in the score also sound screechy at times. It's not a very full sounding mix, but that's what Criterion had to work with. Dialogue is easy to follow along with the subtitles, however some of the dialogue is super quiet at times. It's not the best sounding movie, however, this audio track is the original for those nostalgic times.
Interview with director Victor Erice (HD, 21 Mins.) - This is a 2003 interview on a Spanish TV program in which Erice talks about his film not being finished, the praise it has received over the years and other aspects of making it.
Making of El Sur (HD, 24 Mins.) - This is a re-edited version of the making of the movie with new interviews with cast and crew as they talk about making the film, the locations, and tones of the film.
¡Que Grande es el Ciné! (HD, 61 Mins.) - A Spanish TV show that features a few film critics discussing the movie El Sur and its importance.
Novella - Included in this set is the original 44-page novella by Adelaida García Morales that was the basis for the film.
Criterion Booklet - An illustrated booklet that gives cast and crew info, tech specs, and an essay on the film by Elvira Lindo.
El Sur is a magnificent film that is understated, subtle, and leaves you wanting more. The dream-like atmosphere and the main character's determination to find out more about her father is captivating to watch in each frame of the film. It's one of the best Spanish motion pictures to ever be made, and luckily Criterion knocked it out of the park with it's first major release. The video presentation is excellent, however the original audio track is less than thrilling. The bonus features aren't stacked, but they are highly worth watching. This comes Highly Recommended!
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