EL SOL DEL MEMBRILLO (The Quince Tree Sun aka Dream of Light)

In his quest for a purely sensory, emotionally evocative filmmaking, Spanish master Victor Erice took a side-step with this unusual piece on the work of painter Antonio López, and on his struggle to capture on canvas the perfection of a sun ray hitting a quince tree just so on the backyard of his Madrid studio over the course of a few weeks (during which the building is actually undergoing renovation). El Sol del Membrillo is not exactly of a different piece than his two previous works The Spirit of the Beehive and El Sur, with which it shares a passionate, exquisite pictorialism and an interest in showing rather than telling; but I find it a side-step because it is really not a narrative feature, rather a combination documentary/essay film on the nature of art, time and memory, on the transformation of reality through personal experience.

     Just like little Ana in The Spirit of the Beehive created a heightened reality influenced by cinema, and Estrella in El Sur remembered her early Northern years in golden-hued colours, so does Mr. López attempt to recreate and capture reality through his eyes, and through the medium of art. The film becomes as well a recursive loop, a comment on itself that, while accompanying the back and forth of the artistic creation, talks of its own creation as a film; watching the artist at work is like watching the filmmaker, who is also an artist, at work. And, at heart, all art is but a useless attempt to record that which is unrecordable or attain that which is unattainable, as the painter will eventually discover that the quince tree will not stay in the state he wishes to record.

     The side-step, then, is more formal than conceptual: the longest of the director's only three features and the only non-fictional one, El Sol del Membrillo attempts to mirror in its construction and structure the experience of time during the creation, the way it simultaneously stands still and moves forward, and to make it understandable and relatable for a viewer. In many ways, the film was an early predecessor of what is currently known as the cinéma du réel, films that fashion reality into a cinematic structure that transcends the category of documentary, as if attempting to find its vérité through other forms of cinéma. Its thematic approach, however, makes it a whole other beast from Mr. Erice's other work; fascinating as a conceptual think-piece and as a record of the unrecordable (here comes the recursive loop again), yet a more demanding, less immediately rewarding cinematic experience.

Director: Victor Erice
Screenwriters: Antonio López, Mr. Erice, inspired by a work by Mr. López
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe, Ángel Luis Fernández, José Luis López Linares  (colour)
Music: Pascal Gaigné
Editor: Juan Ignacio San Mateo
Producer: María Moreno  (María Moreno Producciones Cinematograficas in association with Igeldo Zine Produkzioak and Euskal Media)
Spain, 1992, 139 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, August 31st 2013


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