Daily Projections, 6-11-2019: El Sur (1983)

Title: El Sur
Director: Victor Erice
Country of Origin: Spain
Year: 1983
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

It’s hard to break down the plot of something like El Sur. Much like Erice’s first feature, The Spirit of the Beehive (made a decade before this one), El Sur is about mood and atmosphere. And what an atmosphere it is. Estrella is a child in the early days of Franco’s Spain. For Estrella, her father is a source of wonder and mystery who she longs to be close to but who remains shrouded in darkness. Literally. For much of the first half of the film, Augustín (her father) is lit from only one side, half of him obscured by shadows. Watching El Sur feels like a rare glimpse into the Platonic ideal of cinematic photography. Everything about it – the tone, the lighting, the photography, the way the camera moves (when it moves) – feels luminous. Lighting, particularly early on, lends the film an air of enigma, reflective both of Augustín’s mysterious past and of a child’s half-formed understanding of the world. As she grows, Estrella’s world (and her father) emerge from the shadows as more is illuminated, dreary, gray, and cold as her new reality may be. To watch El Sur feels like watching a live action Caravaggio and, to my mind, the fact that Erice has made so few feature films is one of the great injustices of European cinema. El Sur itself is really only half the film it was intended to be (the agreed upon 81-day shooting schedule was cut off after 48 days, apparently due to a lack of funding). Yet maybe it is that scarcity which lends an air of magic and mystery to Erice’s existing work.

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Daily Projections, 6-5-2019: The Man In The Moon (1991)

Title: The Man In The Moon
Director: Robert Mulligan
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1991
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: home
First viewing? kind of (first since an edited cut on TV 20 years ago)

Coming of age drama made in the ’90s, set in the ’50s about love and loss and I guess everything else that coming of age dramas were about in that era (I’m looking at you My Girl). I can’t say I’ve watched many of the latest generation of coming of age films, but The Man In The Moon stands out above just about any I can remember from any era. Director Robert Mulligan (To Kill A Mockingbird) doesn’t set a foot wrong throughout the 100 minute runtime. The film is sensitive to the realities of life on the cusp of childhood and young-adulthood without ever really indulging in the sappy sentimentality that accompanies most of us when we look back on our youth. The Man In The Moon instead feels like a film fortifying itself for the world to come, not without optimism, but with a dose realism and an eye for the things that matter most, the things that will last. A lot is made about Reese Witherspoon in this, her debut, and for good reason. She absolutely lights up the screen with a performance that lights up the screen and puts veteran actors to shame. Maybe it’s the fact that she was truly still a kid yet to come into her own that makes her perfect for The Man In The Moon. Sam Waterston, too, is at his best as her hard-working father, a man of few, but always poignant words. Incredible cinematography by Freddie Francis (The Innocents).