If Only a Lament

A vibrant, haphazard tribute to a vibrant, deceptively haphazard group of Andalucian musicians -- Los Martires del Compas (The Rhythm Martyrs) -- "If Only a Lament" is the kind of low-budget project whose spirit would have come across even had it been shot on a mobile phone.

With:
With: Chico Ocana, Vicenta Ndongo, Paul Berrondo, Alex Brendemhuhl, Manuel Soto.

A vibrant, haphazard tribute to a vibrant, deceptively haphazard group of Andalucian musicians — Los Martires del Compas (The Rhythm Martyrs) — “If Only a Lament” is the kind of low-budget project whose spirit would have come across even had it been shot on a mobile phone. Doubling as an extended pop video and a fun primer to the “palos” or song forms of flamenco, pic took top honors in the Zonazine section of the recent Malaga fest. Its infectious beats — this is the aud-friendly, fusion end of flamenco, not heavy-duty purist fare — deserve a hearing in music-themed sidebars elsewhere.

Amateur director Luna (Vicenta Ndongo) and Manu (Paul Berrondo) set off on a two-year journey of musical discovery in the company of the well-known flamenco fusion band, led by affable motormouth Chico Ocana, clearly thrilled to be having a movie made about him and self-mythologizing throughout.

First exposure to the band in action comes via a Manu-shot video of a stunning ballad called “Tu hielo.” Musical sections, including a memorable sequence featuring elderly guitarist El Cabeza accompanying a barefoot dance by a little girl as a dog looks on — are punctuated by interviews with band members, mostly Chico, explaining how the band came to be playing their own particular brand, “flamenco-billy.”

Luna and Manu follow the band to Cuba, where the cultural connections between Cadiz and Havana are explored — the centerpiece of this section is a wonderful rooftop-set song and dance sequence. Things are less dynamic when the action moves to a big pop fest in Italy, where budget limitations are apparent.

Though the fun factor helps the pic through its wobblier sections, this is tremendously flawed fare at other levels. Hearing the other band members pontificating about why they chose to be musos is not always enthralling, a final scene involving the end of a love affair of which we have been barely aware is contrived, and Chico often repeats himself.

But pic’s heart — the music — compensates for the shortcomings.

If Only a Lament

Spain

Production: An Eddie Saeta production. (International sales: Eddie Saeta, Barcelona.) Produced by Saeta. Directed by Fernando de France. Screenplay, de France, Chico Ocana.

Crew: Camera (color, DVD-to-35mm), Albert Prous, Xavier Moron, Antonio Gamez; editor, de France, Dani Arbones; music, Martires del Compas. Reviewed at Malaga Spanish Film Festival (Zonazine), March 24, 2006. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Chico Ocana, Vicenta Ndongo, Paul Berrondo, Alex Brendemhuhl, Manuel Soto.

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