Erice, Víctor


Erice, Víctor
(1940- )
   With only three features to his name, the last released in 1992, Erice remains one of the key personalities of Spanish cinema. His work is widely discussed in Spanish academic circles, and he is a well-known personality even in the context of European art film, often featured in festivals and exhibitions. This is no small achievement for an uncompromising director who believes that the only films worth making are those that aspire to high art and who has really only finished one feature according to his original plan, the 1992 documentary El sol del membrillo (The Sun in the Quince), about painter Antonio López.
   Víctor Erice was born in Karrantza, in the Basque country, and studied at the Escuela Oficial de Cine (EOC), graduating in 1963. That year, he was co-scriptwriter and assistant director to Antxón Eceiza in El próximo otoño (Next Fall, 1963). Over the following years, he wrote a number of essays in which he articulated a sophisticated perspective on film art along the line of elitist European auteurs like Andrei Tarkovsky. In 1967, he wrote the script for Miguel Picazo's Oscuros sueños de agosto (Dark August Dreams), and in 1969 he directed a segment of the Querejeta-produced port-manteau movie Los desafíos (The Challenges). This was a strange, apocalyptic parable in which an American-style approach to youth culture clashed with another model rooted in European traditions, and it constitutes a statement about a particular position on cultural and political debates. The film won the Silver Shell award at the San Sebastian film festival that year.
   After a few years in which he turned to advertising (which would remain his main source of income) to make a living, he embarked on another Elias Querejeta project, which would be known as El espíritu de la colmena (Spirit of the Beehive, 1973), based on a draft script by Ángel Fernández Santos. His work showed a personal assimilation of lessons learned from the masters of the European art tradition, including Carl Theodor Dreyer, Robert Bresson, and his admired Tarkovsky. It was not an easy shoot. Following his high artistic standards, Erice worked slowly. Actors Fernando Fernán Gómez and Teresa Gimpera had alternative commitments and could not finish all the scenes in which they were initially required to appear; Querejeta grew impatient with Erice's methods and threatened to shut the production down, so the story had to be refocused, now using the children's perspective. It may have been a lucky coincidence, as Ana Torrent's watchful eyes made history in Spanish film and came to constitute the essence of the story. Indeed, as released, El espíritu de la colmena succeeds as an attempt on the side of a child to penetrate the darkness and secrets of a war-ravaged country.
   The director went on to win the Golden Seashell at the San Sebastian Film Festival (the first Spanish auteur ever to do so), and abroad he became emblematic of a national cinema stifled by a dictatorial regime. However, for Erice, spiritual values were as important as political ones, and although the story thematically plays on memories of the Civil War, what lingers in the mind are the sad landscapes, the slow pans, and the way characters look at the world.
   With the Transition came a number of tributes, and the director and his film were praised by the critical establishment. In spite of this, Erice withdrew from filmmaking for an entire decade, unable to realize his personal conception of artistic cinema, and only returning when Querejeta supported an adaptation of Adelaida García Morales' short novel El sur. In many ways, the film was a continuation of his previous feature. History repeated itself: shooting proceeded very slowly, and what had been planned as a long three-part production that would be shown on television was reduced to a 95-minute film. Erice's original vision demanded the interplay between north and south in visual terms, but when Querejeta shut down production again (claiming some funds had never arrived), only the northern section of the film was close to completion. Finally, El sur (South, 1983) was released in cinemas; even in its unfinished state, it was hailed as a masterpiece, immediately becoming one of the most acclaimed films of the 1980s. As in his feature debut, Erice chose the point of view of a young girl (played by future film director Iciar Bollain) as a point of entry to a network of desires, nostalgia, secrets, and repressed emotions.
   El sol del membrillo (The Quince's Sun, 1992) was a documentary on realist painter Antonio López and his work. It is not hard to see Erice's empathy with the artist's careful methods and attention to detail. After another long period of silence, he was offered to direct El embrujo de Shanghai (Shanghai Spell, 2002). But he was unable to progress with the production at a pace that made economic sense, and he was let go. Fernando Trueba completed the project.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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