Fernando E. Solanas is one of the most important film makers to emerge from Latin America. His works – both feature films and documentaries, primarily concern politics, with a specific interest in showcasing a uniquely South American identity. On this regard, he even penned a manifesto called “Toward a Third Cinema”, which was enthusiastically adopted by several film makers. His 1988 drama “Sur” [Eng. Title: The South] is as Argentinian a film can get – blending metaphors with political and social satire, and set against an atmospheric backdrop to the accompaniment of hauntingly brooding tango. The film’s title, while directly pointing to the southern (poorer) part of Buenos Airés, also refers to a redevelopment project, and South America as a whole.
The film is essentially about political prisoner Floreal’s (Miguel Ángel Solá) return journey home, following the fall of the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Upon arrival, he changes his mind at the doorstep, and instead takes a walk through the city in the dead of night accompanied by ghosts from the past, while wife Rosi (Susú Pecoraro) lay awake, anxious and worried. She’s aware of his release and had only just returned home after waiting for him the whole day at the prison door. Floreal’s walkabout will inform us of their story with the aid of flashbacks tinged with nostalgia, and the odd ghostly re-enactment.
A lot is going on in Floreal’s mind that causes the detour – his was an idyllic family life prior to arrest. Ironically, he was neither interested in unionism nor politics, but ended in prison after the one instance he made a statement of solidarity with staff, by participating in a strike over the extra-judicial killing of a colleague. Moved around from prison to prison over the five years of his incarceration, Rosi had to go to extraordinary lengths to keep tab and visit him, simply glad that he’s still alive, unlike the many who disappear altogether. There’s another reason for Floreal’s hesitance to reunite with Rosi whom he nevertheless loves dearly, but is revealed much later into the film.
The ghost of the dead colleague – ‘El Negro’ (Lito Cruz) accompanies Floreal as he wanders the streets, recounting events from the past alongside some friendly banter. The film, apart from attacking the dictatorship, satirises politics and bureaucracy, like in the passage of play where two friends try to influence a cousin working in the ministry into getting Floreal released, but whose offices are being fumigated during the visit.
Regardless of its lighter moments, the overbearing air of the film is one of melancholy and foreboding, and the atmospheric cinematography alongside the tango of Astor Piazzolla (sung by Roberto Goyeneche who also plays Rosi’s dad) lifts the film experience to something akin to experiencing a bad dream. Solanas these days is a politician and even holds active office, but his films still remain a yardstick for measuring visual poetry in Latin American cinema. Among these, Sur remains my absolute favourite, and hence Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Susú Pecoraro, Inés Molina, and Gabriela Toscano
The film often highlights the soothing nature of nostalgia, and the nude scenes form part of it, with Susú Pecoraro featuring on a number of occasions. Apart from these, a scene also recollects a fleeting but passionate affair between Floreal and María (Inés Molina), when they were hiding from authorities. There’s also a brief instance of Rosi’s sister Blondi (Gabriela Toscano) flashing at her boyfriend.