Slow Burn


Gathering a complete retrospective of Spanish master Victor Erice’s work is as easy as falling off a log, seeing as he has made only three films—all contemplative, wide-eyed masterpieces—at 10-year intervals, an output that makes Robert Bresson look prolific. Naturally, Erice’s work reflects patience, deep-dish humanist priorities, and a sense that vision is a sacrament with nature. His debut, The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), with its communion between the life of two young sisters in rural Spain and the mythic torque of James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein, is one of the very best films about childhood, possibly the loveliest movie ever shot on Spanish landscapes, and a startling essay on the cinema’s capacity to infect real life with mystery. In a sense Erice’s big “international” film (starring Taviani staple Omero Antonutti and Malle vet Aurore Clément), El Sur (1982) tracks the fissuring bond between a little girl and her father as she matures in the northern cities—”the south” representing an idealized past she can never quite grasp. The weft of intimate details and melancholy lyricism was distinctly Erice’s, but nothing prepped viewers for Dream of Light (El Sol del Membrillo, 1992), a semi-fictional examination of artistic process in which Erice simply chronicles artist Antonio López García preparing a painting of a quince tree in his courtyard, a process so meticulous and time-consuming that the artist must take the growth of the tree into account. The series also includes Erice’s only film since—Lifeline, a 10-minute segment of the new, rather quixotic omnibus Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet. Erice’s portentous, almost unendurable black-and-white short watches the seconds pass in a small Spanish village in the ’30s as, unbeknownst to anyone, a sleeping baby begins to suddenly bleed.

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