Having decided on doggedly mainstream treatment for the defiantly non-mainstream flamenco hero of the title, vet Jaime Chavarri fails to supply new dramatic riffs in predictable biopic “Camaron.” Redeemed only by a committed perf from young Oscar Jaenada, a few late flourishes and some, but not enough, terrific music, fusty-feeling item has the approval of the dead star’s family, but is hardly the passionate tribute his daring genius deserves. Pic should raise a brief “ole” at home, and at arthouses in territories friendly to supposedly authentic Spanish fare, but beyond Spain is unlikely to find the mainstream auds it’s gunning for.
Early scenes chart the young Camaron de la Isla’s upbringing in apparently idyllic, well-lensed Andalusian surroundings, where he dreams of being a bullfighter. Asked to sing at mother Juana’s (Rosa Estevez) birthday party, the youngster discovers he’s a better singer than bullfighter.
Having picked up a gig at the legendary Venta de Vargas bar, Camaron (now played by Oscar Jaenada) is watched by guitarist Paco de Lucia (Raul Rocamora). Flamenco buffs will enjoy seeing how various thesps play these legends.
His reputation rising, the singer heads for Madrid, where he starts a relationship with the fiery and sadistic Isabel (Merce Llorens), an upper-class “paya” (non-gypsy) girl. Camaron and Paco start working together, making some wonderfully vibrant music: Lip and finger syncs throughout are superb.
On their first European tour Camaron, out of his depth and homesick, starts experimenting with the drugs that will lead to his early death. The more professional de Lucia looks on in disgust. When the singer returns to his birthplace to clean up, he meets 15-year-old La Chispa (Veronica Sanchez) and, after a bit of will-they-won’t-they, they marry.
From here on, it’s a standard tale of the star going off the rails, with little time devoted to exploring the unique musical and social phenomenon the singer represented.
Pic’s high points are concert sequences.
Jaenada looks spot-on, his gaunt features hidden beneath a small jungle of curly hair and some fabulously ridiculous sunglasses. He plays the endlessly smoking Camaron as a mixture of machismo, insecurity and self-centeredness who’s entirely dependent on his brother Manuel (Martin Bello). However, script’s desire to pack in Camaron’s entire life means things never slow down enough to give the viewer a handle on what really makes him tick.
Visuals are smooth-looking throughout, with maximum light/shade exploitation. Original music is terrif, as are a couple of dance sequences, but the score is standard orchestral.