Review: ‘Flamenco’

Carlos Saura's "Flamenco" is the ultimate flamenco film. With all the immediacy of a live performance, this is a breath taking compendium of the styles and traditions of the flamenco, featuring top artists who sing, dance and play guitar.

Carlos Saura’s “Flamenco” is the ultimate flamenco film. With all the immediacy of a live performance, this is a breath taking compendium of the styles and traditions of the flamenco, featuring top artists who sing, dance and play guitar. An irresistible treat for connoisseurs and the uninitiated alike, pic will be a bracing surprise for anyone who has forgotten how exciting music, dance and voice can be, and promises to be a cultural crowdpleaser internationally.

This is Saura’s fifth feature to make prominent use of his country’s most famous dance form, after the 1981-86 trilogy of “Blood Wedding,” “Carmen” and “El Amor brujo,” and the hourlong 1992 docu “Sevillanas.” While the new picture has a strong TV and video future, the full experience of the film — especially the pleasure of watching Vittorio Storaro’s abstract yet astoundingly sensual cinematography, and the thrill of hearing toe-tapping guitar rhythms as recorded on Dolby SRD digital sound — demands bigscreen viewing.

Lensing entirely in an abandoned train station in Seville, Saura and Storaro create a magical, minimalist world of light in which traditional and contemporary song [7m(cante),[22;27m dance [7m(baile)[22;27m and guitar playing [7m(toque)[22;27m can hold the viewer’s undivided attention. More than 300 performers illustrate the amazing diversity and vitality of the flamenco tradition, whose variants include the buleria, martinete, fandango and tango, seguiriya, tarata, rumba and solea.

The drama and excitement of flamenco is conveyed in brilliant, heartfelt performances. There appears to be lots of room for improvising, but that could be a skillful illusion. Among the venerable performers captured on film are Paco de Lucia, Manolo Sanlucear, Lole y Manuel and Joaquin Cortes. There are solo dancers nd dutes, 15 femake fancers in flowing dresses, music-less numbers featuring clicking heels on the hardwood floor, and a string trio accompanying dancers. One 10-year-old boy would make Fred Astaire sit up and take notice.

Pic is virtually bereft of speech outside song. Only regret for non-Spanish-speaking audiences will be missing out on the words of the passionate vocal numbers. Any subtitling, however, would detract from the intensity of the performances.

Working practically without props or scenery, art director Rafael Palmero concentrates his creativity on the dancers’ astonishing costumes (and shoes). Saura’s sagely choreographed camera changes strategy with each number. It captures some perfs in a single take; becomes a partner to others, moving in and out of the dance; and is a fixed, frontal viewer to others.

Quality of the sound recording is exceptional.

Flamenco

Spanish

Production

A Sogepaq release of a Juan Lebron Producciones production, Produced by Juan Lebron. Executive producer, Jose Lopez Rodero. Directed, written by Carlos Saura.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Vittorio Storaro; editor, Pablo del Amo; music, Isidro Munoz; art direction/costumes, Rafael Palmero; sound (Dolby SRD), Chris Munro, Jesus Bola, Andrew Glen. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Window on Images/Special Event), Sept. 3, 1995. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Paco de Lucia, Manolo Sanlucar, Enrique Morente, Joaquin Cortes, Jose Menese, Loly Manuel, Mario Maya, Jose Merce, Matilde Coral, Carmen Linares, Merche Esmeralda, Chocolate, Manuela Carrasco, Farruco, Fernanda de Utrera, La Paquera de Jerez, Mananita, Ketama, Agujeta, Moneo, Paco Toronjo, Maria Pages, Aurora Vargas, Remedios Amaya, Juana la del Revuelo, La Macanita, Chano Lobato, Rancapino, Tomatito, Potito, Duquende, Belen Maya, El Grilo and others.
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