On the cusp of his fourth decade making dance films, Carlos Saura’s latest “Flamenco, Flamenco” reps a bit more of an occasion than usual, in that it’s the first such project in 12 years to reunite the nearly octogenarian helmer with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. (They have, however, worked together on a couple of narrative features in the meantime.) While Saura’s interim dance pics with various other lensers were certainly handsome, this particular collaboration immediately kicks matters up a notch. Though the novelty may have long worn off, this feast of movement and music will follow its predecessors to specialized international exposure.
Having now arrived at the director’s 10th ode to flamenco, tango, their variations and related musical forms — including the director’s more succinctly titled 1995 pic, “Flamenco,” — viewers know where they stand; either they can’t get enough of this stuff, or they’ve had quite enough already. (Admittedly, the films do tend to blur together, especially omnibus-format ones like “Flamenco Flamenco” as opposed to the full-length dance dramas like “Blood Wedding.”)
But even those who’ve tired of them must admit it’s a pity other major choreographic forms — such as ballet and Western modern dance — haven’t gotten a fraction of the truly cinematic attention Saura lavishes on his beloved Spanish idioms. Far from simply performance records, these films find one creative medium ideally complemented, even heightened by another.
Using the Seville Expo ’92 pavilion as its soundstage, “Flamenco, Flamenco” highlights the evolution of the art form by encompassing both familiar, aging performers and a new generation that mixes traditional elements with unorthodox ones to create “fusion flamenco.” As usual, however, none of this is explained via intertitles or narration; even song lyrics go untranslated, the only onscreen text noting the song subgenre and its performer (or ensemble) at the beginning of each sequence. Primary set elements are oversized replicas of paintings by masters from the Renaissance to Klimt and Picasso, all depicting seductive women, which turn into scrims when backlit — as well as landscape backdrops hewing to a moody sunset color scheme.
About half the performances are music-only, their instrumental accompaniment ranging from full ensembles with virtuoso soloists to men facing off on two grand pianos. In a couple instances, it’s nothing more than a percussionist knocking on a wooden tabletop or hammering a smithy’s anvil.