While beautifully photographed and full of interesting characters Fernando Colomo's latest feature film Al sur de Granada a.k.a South from Granada (2003) is a perfect example of a story uncapable of living up to its potential. Set amidst the green hills of the beautiful Spanish countryside South from Granada follows up British writer Gerald Brenan (Matthew Goode), perhaps better known for his short-lived affair with Dora Carrington (Jessica Meyer), and his involvement with the Bloomsbury Group.
South from Granada begins with a short introduction revealing a young man arriving in rural Alpujarras, Spain looking for peace and solace. The young man appears to be writer Gerald Brenan who has decided to flee his native England in search for a place that will allow him to work on his book undisturbed by the "civilized world". Spared from the pretentiousness of British intelligentsia Gerald Brenan settles down in Alpujarras where he will fall in love, learn to live life to the fullest, and become part of a community that will accept him as one of their own.
Despite of its very impressive cinematography and generally convincing cast South from Granada is a film which does not step beyond what I typically refer to as "uneventful cinema". Certainly all of the necessary ingredients for an engaging and visually rewarding film are present: there is a passionate love affair, a good (yet insufficient) dose of humor, a cast that while not exceptional is certainly good at what they aspire to achieve, and a director who seems to be at ease with his camera. So, why is it then that South from Granada fails to develop into a memorable film? A simple answer would be: because of its script! A more complicated explanation would be: because the lack of a convincing script affects all of the above-mentioned positives in a manner that destroys everything good I can highlight about this film.
The thematic lack of coherence which South from Granada reveals does not have a specific point of origin, certainly not one that I could identify. The simple love affair between an English nobleman and a poor Spanish girl seems like the perfect premise for a captivating romantic story and at least for the first half-hour the film manages to keep the attention of its audience in check. But not for long! The disruptive process which eventually transforms South from Granada into a major disappointment I believe begins somewhere around the time when Dona Carrington and her comrades reunite with Gerald Brenan. Certainly this is where the film visibly begins to lose its appeal and by the time the audience bids farewell to Dona Carrington for a second time (indeed we see her twice) South from Granada already feels like a sugary soap opera with nothing else but strong visuals.
The inconsistencies with the script addressed above also have an effect on what I thought should have been used as a foundation for this film-the cultural shock which Gerald Brenan experiences upon arrival in Alpujarras. All too quickly and in my opinion in a very unconvincing fashion South from Granada covers Brenan's adjustment to Spanish culture by using clichéd humor where such is not needed. Aside from Brenan's struggle with the Spanish language and a few dance lessons which the audience is given the chance to explore in detail almost everything else concerning the "adjustment" period in this film feels too static. It is indeed quite unfortunate as the stunning cinematography found in South from Granada could have elevated this recent film to one of the more appealing foreign productions to arrive in North America.
While I was watching South from Granada I could not stop thinking about another recent Spanish production which was highly decorated in its native country. The film in question: La Vida Que te Espera a.k.a Your Next Life. Both of those films share some spectacular cinematography and beautiful love stories set amidst the allure of rural Spain…yet they are very different. La Vida Que te Espera manages to achieve great results because it remains focused on the love affair between its main protagonists even when humor is being used to spice up the story. In South from Granada the script simply does not go far enough in exploring the love interest between Gerald Brenan and the lovely Spanish girl. In fact, everything good that is worth mentioning about Fernando Colomo's film is negated by the amateurish manner in which this film is being structured. Too bad as I was very impressed by the cinematography and will certainly be looking forward to the Spanish director's future projects.
Spanish Actors Union: Newcomer Award (Veronica Sanchez); Best Film Award at the Verona Love Screens Film Festival (2004); Goya Award for Best Original Score (Juan Bardem).
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's South from Granada looks exceptionally good. Excellent degree of contrast, lush and steady colors, and a film print that lacks any damage that I could spot transform this DVD (at least as far as the technical presentation is concerned ) into a pleasant surprise. There is some very minor edge enhancement present but you would have to look hard to spot it. The daytime scenes are exceptionally good looking and I am certainly impressed that this film looks so good on DVD. Last but not least Wellspring appear to have flagged this disc properly which indeed does miracles with the image presentation.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Spanish/English Dolby Digital track where the portions spoken in Spanish could be viewed with optional English yellow subtitles the audio presentation is mostly fine. I would have guessed that such a colorful film would have warranted a more advanced 5.1 mix but nevertheless I am satisfied with the treatment. Audio is mostly crisp and clear and the dialog easy to follow. There are no occasional dropouts nor was I able to spot any particular hissing or pop-ups that might detract from your viewing experience. Indeed this is a good if rather uneventful audio treatment.
The following extras are provided on this DVD:
A "Making-of featurette" in which the director of South from Granada discusses his fascination with Gerald Brenan and how he was inspired to make this film a reality. We are also given the opportunity to listen to some of the cast as they discuss their involvement with this project. Next, there is a trailer gallery for other Wellspring releases and last but not least there is a second trailer gallery with upcoming theatrical releases.
I desperately wanted to like this film as I could sense that Fernando Colomo is an enormously gifted director. I listened to his interview provided in the "Making of" and can only confirm what I already mentioned above-South from Granada is neither a solid biopic nor a captivating romantic/comedy film. And I am unsure who is responsible for it. I blame the script-writer as the director did as much as he could with what he was provided with. What a shame, this film has all the necessary pieces yet no one was able to put them together. RENT IT.