This 1983 film, written and directed by far-from-prolific Victor Erice (best known for 1973’s ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’), gives us a moving, mysterious and troubling child’s-eye view of the world. It’s also one of Pedro Almodóvar’s all-time favourite Spanish films. And the ever-present voiceover of a woman, Estrella (María Massip), recalling her childhood, first as an eight-year-old (Sonsoles Aranguren) then as a 15-year-old (Icíar Bollaín) in 1950s and ’60s northern Spain, must surely have influenced Almodóvar’s own more sombre, serious female-focused stories.
At the heart of ‘El Sur’, which is based on a short story by Adelaida García Morales, is Estrella’s relationship with her dad, Agustín (Omero Antonutti), a loving but aloof figure who spends a lot of time apart from Estrella and her mum (Lola Cardona). He is also thought to have magical powers that mean he’s hired as a water diviner by locals. The shadow of the Spanish Civil War and Agustín’s reasons for leaving behind his family hang over the film, as well as a past romantic relationship – all of which work their power on Estrella’s imagination. It’s a fragmented, lyrical work that has some extremely powerful moments of shadowy, painterly beauty.