Review: ‘Iberia’

Fans of Carlos Saura's electrifying 1995 documentary "Flamenco (de Carlos Saura)" will be unable to stay away from "Iberia," though this encore is too similar to have the same impact. The $3.2 million work, shot entirely on a soundstage and lit like "Flamenco," brings together a host of dazzling Spanish stars who sing, dance and play modern, folk, flamenco and operetta variations of composer Isaac Albeniz's "Iberia" suite.

Fans of Carlos Saura’s electrifying 1995 documentary “Flamenco (de Carlos Saura)” will be unable to stay away from “Iberia,” though this encore is too similar to have the same impact. The $3.2 million work, shot entirely on a soundstage and lit like “Flamenco,” brings together a host of dazzling Spanish stars who sing, dance and play modern, folk, flamenco and operetta variations of composer Isaac Albeniz’s “Iberia” suite. Taking the connoisseur’s path rather than the route of easy entertainment, pic has the earmarks of a classy, long-lived music DVD and a hot-selling pubcaster item.

Film is structured as a series of performance numbers, with no commentary beyond a quick identification of the artists. A number of the performers, like Manolo Sanlucar, have worked with Saura before. Dance stars include the internationally acclaimed Sara Baras; Antonio Canales, current director of the Spanish National Ballet; and the company’s former director, Aida Gomez, who starred in Saura’s “Salome.” Featured singers include flamenco great Enrique Morente and his daughter, Estrella Morente, while pianists Rosa Torres Pardo and Chano Dominguez, as well as guitarist Manolo Sanlucar offer powerful interpretations of the original piano pieces.

Ranging from modern to traditional, the numbers evoke many different moods, from humor to pathos, seduction to despair. On the centenary of Albeniz’s “Iberia,” they build a powerful portrait of the Spanish spirit, particularly the gypsy culture of Andalusia.

Saura has developed his ideas about pure, non-narrative cinema inspired by musical compositions in other works like “Sevillanas” and “Salome.” Here again, scenery and staging are minimized to avoid distracting from the artists. In his attention to detail and unexpected forms, Saura plays the intuitive magician, who combines music and dance with his own art form — film.

At the same time, it’s hard to see how “Iberia” takes Saura’s work beyond previous accomplishments like “Flamenco,” whose use of strikingly lit panels owed much to the color theories of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. Here Jose Luis Lopez Linares’ lighting effects on canvas panels, while a major aesthetic in the film, can’t help but look derivative. And with inventiveness the name of this game, things feel a tad pre-packaged.

Sonia Grande’s startling, highly original costumes make a major contribution to the film’s enjoyment. Composer Roque Banos excellently rearranges Albeniz’s music in a danceable direction.

Iberia

Spain

Production

A Morena Films production in association with Wild Bunch and Telemadrid. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Alvaro Longoria, Vincent Maraval. Directed, written by Carlos Saura.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Jose Luis Lopez Linares; editor, Julia Janiz; music, Roque Banos; production designer, Saura; costume designer, Sonia Grande; sound (Dolby Digital), Jose Vinader; line producer, Yousaf Bokhari; choreography, Jose Antonio; assistant director, Saura Medrano. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 13, 2005. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Sara Baras, Manolo Sanlucar, Antonio Canales, Aida Gomez, Enrique Morente, Estrella Morente, Rosa Torres-Pardo, Jose Antonio, Chano Dominguez, Jorge Pardo, Gerardo Nunez, Patrick De Bana, Miguel Angel Berna.
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