|S E A R C H D V D B e a v e r|
El Sur aka "The South" [Blu-ray]
(Víctor Erice, 1983)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: Elías Querejeta Producciones Cinematográficas S.L.
Video: BFI / Criterion Collection - Spine # 927
Region: 'B' / 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)
Runtime: 1:34:54.708 / 1:34:43.344
Disc Size: 23,810,845,020 bytes / 48,431,935,506 bytes
Feature Size: 20,509,384,704 bytes / 28,480,720,896 bytes
Video Bitrate: 23.98 Mbps / 35.96 Mbps
Chapters: 12 / 14
Case: Standard Blu-ray case/ Transparent BD case
Release date: January 23rd, 2017 / June 19th, 2018
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
LPCM Audio Spanish 768 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps /
LPCM Audio Spanish 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Memory: The Cinema of Víctor Erice (Adrian Martin,
Cristina Álvarez López, 2016, 13:04): a video essay
celebrating the great Spanish director
from 2003 with director Víctor Erice (21:22)
Description: Estrella Arenas (Icíar Bollaín), a rural
Spanish teenager with a rich imagination, dreams of her
mysterious father Agustín (Omero Antonutti), a man who
in recent years has drifted away from her. Estrella
struggles to piece together Agustín's secret history and
recalls her family's sudden unexplained move from
Seville, Spain, to the northern countryside in her
youth. Estrella decides to return alone to the South, a
place warped by years of her father's hazy and nostalgic
The sublime The Spirit of the Beehive was a daunting act to follow, but ten years on Erice produced a film to equal that earlier masterpiece. The setting is northern Spain in the late '50s. We look again through the eyes of a child, ever watchful and all-seeing, winkling out the secrets of this world apart, where there is neither Good nor Evil; no heroes, no escape; and life is lived in spluttering bursts of poetic intensity. Erice creates his film as a canvas, conjuring painterly images of slow dissolves and shafts of light that match Caravaggio in their power to animate a scene of stillness, or freeze one of mad movement. The dramatic impact of gorgeous image and tantalising message is enormous.
...I thought of this because of the way Víctor Erice's marvelously evocative sophomore feature,El Sur, frames so much of the past it dwells on in golden hues, faces and eyes positively radiating out of the darkness (not for nothing does the film begin with what seems to be a sunrise very slowly making its way along a darkened bedroom). But also because El Sur is a memoir, its voiceover spoken by a woman remembering her coming of age as a young girl during the mid-fifties, in the cold, chilly North of Spain, to where her physician father (a wonderful Omero Antonutti) moved from the South in search of a job. And also because this memoir of the inquisitive, gregarious Estrella (played first by Sonsoles Aranguren as a child and then by Iciar Bollaín as a teenager) focuses not so much on the golden moments of a childhood, but on the questions, the secrets, the unspoken family mysteries that the film never truly reveals but whose motives or reasons it hints at repeatedly.
Image : NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
El Sur gets a Blu-ray from BFI. It is single-layered and while the film itself is absolutely gorgeous - the transfer can look a shade thin at times. When zooming-in the grain is fairly blotchy and there was minor, low-frequency, edge-enhancement (see capture below). Generally, in-motion, the 1080P supports supports the film reasonably well with minor depth and lush colors - in the original 1.66:1 frame. It's very clean but just doesn't show the texture as consistently/finely as I would have preferred. I don't see egregious digitization but it frequently seems frail. I would assume these niggling points (Erice is one director that we may want to get picky about the hi-def visuals) are irrelevant to many systems. Many will be thrilled to have El Sur available in HD for their home theaters. I don't know that dual-layering, and a higher bitrate, would have improved the transfer appearance (likely the compression) - but it is probable. To have such a beautiful film on Blu-ray or digital at all is a cinephile dream.
NOTE: Per-Olof (thank you!) has sent us four comparison captures of the OOP Vertice (there is, yet, another Spanish Blu-ray from Divisa available HERE). The Vertice looks pretty similar - perhaps a bit brighter - 19.5 GB for the film but similar issues to the BFI transfer.
The Criterion Blu-ray is advertised as a "new 2K digital restoration". It is dual-layered with a max'ed out bitrate and doesn't have the digitization issues of the BFI (or Veritice). It has warmer colors (flesh tones) and is significantly more textured supporting the wonderfully rich grain. There is some slight variance in the 1.66:1 frame - bottom line is that the Criterion has rectified the flaws of the previous two Blu-ray releases. It looks great in-motion - easily the best digital release of this Erice's film.
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
Subtitle Sample -Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray
BFI use a linear PCM track, authentically mono (16-bit). The are some effect sounds - motorcycle etc. that come through flat with a bit of depth. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'B'-locked.
While Criterion also go linear PCM mono - their audio transfer is 24-bit and, hence, again advances upon the other two Blu-ray releases having more resonance. The score is credited to Enric Granados - a concert pianist from the late 1800s - and I don't know much about him other than he died quite young, (drowned while trying to save his wife after the ship they were sailing on was torpedoed in 1916) but his composures have been used in other films and his pieces utilized in El Sur and quite poignant. The Criterion has optional English subtitles on the Region 'A'-locked Blu-ray disc.
We get a wonderful 2016 video essay from Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López entitledHaunted Memory: The Cinema of Víctor Erice. They discuss how film clips, especially from old Hollywood films loom large in the cinema of director Víctor Erice - as noted, in El Sur, when characters are seen at a local movie house. It's very insightful. There is also an audio only, 2003, interview with Víctor Erice by Geoff Andrew that runs to the film, and a theatrical re-release trailer. The package contains a second disc DVD and there is a fully illustrated booklet featuring essays by Geoff Andrew and Mar Diestro-Dópido plus full film credits.
For their supplements Criterion add a 2003 interview with director Víctor Erice running 22-minutes. Midway through filming El Sur, originally planned as a longer movie, production was halted and the intended ending, set in southern Spain, was never shot. In this interview from Spanish television Erice recalls the obstacles he faced and discusses how he feels now about the film he was never able to complete. There is also a new program 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. It runs 25-minutes and the interviews were originally shot for El Mundo and have been reedited for this extr feature. There is an hour-long episode of ¡Qué grande es el cine! from 1996, featuring film critics Miguel Marías, Miguel Rubio, and Juan Cobos discussing El Sur. It features in-depth readings of El Sur. The package also has a liner notes booklet with an essay by novelist and critic Elvira Lindo, and a new edition of the 1985 novella by Adelaida García Morales on which the film is based.
BFI - Region ''B' - Blu-ray
Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray
Criterion give us a rectified Blu-ray edition - a full HD transfer without error, superior audio and some meaningful supplements. It is the one to own - don't hesitate. Our highest recommendation!
January 3rd, 2017
May 13th, 2018