“Morente” is a flawed swan song. Perhaps the greatest flamenco singer of modern times, Enrique Morente died in December, just a week after shooting completed. Built around his last recording, an homage to Pablo Picasso, this docu features reminiscences, interviews with Morente’s family and footage of a friend of Picasso’s with whom Morente was fascinated — none of which prove as engrossing as the music, presented here via two stunning 2010 live performances. Hispanic-themed fests will take an interest, with limited arthouse play a possibility in Ibero-friendly territories.
A tenor with a clear, pure voice that gave him an appeal beyond that of the traditional flamenco singers, Morente is most famous for his pioneering fusions with other musical styles, particularly his classic album “Omega,” which features versions of Leonard Cohen songs.
Docu begins with some history, including the story of Eugenio Arias, who met Picasso in exile and became one of his best friends. Arias’ story is probably worth a full docu in itself, rather than the cursory overview it gets here. The camera follows the Morente family around the Albacain district of Granada, drops in at rehearsals and records brief, uninteresting interviews with Morente’s wife and three children, all flamenco singers themselves. Coverage barely scratches the surface of its subject, and the only worthwhile scenes are those featuring Morente and his daughter Estrella singing together in the Arab baths in Granada, as well as a few fly-on-the-wall moments from rehearsals that will fascinate buffs.
Much of this screen time would have been better used to show more of the concerts Morente gave in Buitrago, near Madrid, and at Barcelona’s Liceo in 2010. (The Buitrago sequences are in black-and-white, shot against the backdrop of an Arab wall.) Thought to be among Morente’s finest performances, they are stunning in their intensity and beauty, and rep obligatory viewing for anyone interested in flamenco. At one point, Morente’s accompanying singers stare open-mouthed in wonder at the bravura of his vocal performance.
Picasso’s antiwar masterpiece “Guernica” figures as a leitmotif: One striking scene has the singer howling passionately at the painting, while one of the featured songs is called “Guerna-Irak.”
Docu also features the singer’s final recorded performance, a passionate interpretation of Antonio Vega’s “Fallen Angel,” accompanied by the Argentinean pianist Federico Lechner, which was lensed the day before Morente went into the hospital.