LONDON--Carlos Saura's "The South" is top-flight cinematic short-story telling. Hourlong TV movie, about a Buenos Aires librarian's obsession with his family home in the south, should rate festival exposure on the strength of the Spanish director's name and makes a perfect dualer with his subsequent "Sevillanas" dance docu for imaginative art-house playoff.
LONDON–Carlos Saura’s “The South” is top-flight cinematic short-story telling. Hourlong TV movie, about a Buenos Aires librarian’s obsession with his family home in the south, should rate festival exposure on the strength of the Spanish director’s name and makes a perfect dualer with his subsequent “Sevillanas” dance docu for imaginative art-house playoff.Saura has updated the two-page short story by Argentine scribe Jose Luis Borges from the ’30s to spring 1990, and played up its autobiographical elements , such as the protagonist’s strong mother. Helmer sees “El Sur” as “a bit of an experimental film,” though its precision mounting and dream-like ending echo elements in his work from the past 20 years. Central character is shy, time-serving librarian Juan Dahlman (Oscar Martinez), who dreams he’s stabbed to death at the family’s beautiful southern ranch, a place he’s wanted to revisit since childhood. One day, after injuring his head in a fall, he undergoes surgery and is ordered to rest. And so he finally journeys south, to his appointment with destiny. Pic is basically a slow-paced mood piece–a study of a man emotionally (and later, physically) between life and death–but Saura keeps plenty of emotion bubbling away beneath the surface to prevent the pic from becoming a dry, academic exercise. The quirky classical/Hispanic soundtrack and Jose Luis Alcaine’s crystalline visuals keep ears and eyes engaged. Performances are all neatly etched and highly focused. Buenos Aires locations are used with economy.