Monday, November 17, 2014

Saura’s Flamenco, Flamenco

Carlos Saura is sort of like the Busby Berkeley of flamenco and other traditional Iberian musical forms, except he stages musical numbers with Spartan elegance. There will be no talking whatsoever, just singing, dancing, and playing in his latest intimate musical performance film. Saura follows up his 1995 art house hit Flamenco with the aptly titled Flamenco, Flamenco (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Saura will not even cheapen his visually gorgeous film with a lot of inter-titles identifying the many accomplished musicians making up his all-star flamenco ensembles. In a way, that is unfortunate for them, because their performances would make converts out of any non-fan who just happened to wander into Flamenco-squared. Indeed, the Flamenco choreography framed by Saura and revered cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is particularly cinematic, emphasizing the dancers’ long vertical lines and their whirling garments.

There is no question Saura is one of the best filmmakers in the world when it comes to capturing dance on film. He also has an intuitive sense of how to best use the inherent tension of flamenco percussion. Although flamenco costuming is traditionally rather modest, several of the younger singers and dancer convey quite a bit of passion through their performances. However, when María Bala steps forward for her solo, the audience is transported to the Andalusian caves.

In terms of quality, Flamenco, Flamenco is remarkably consistent, but there are still notable standouts. Surprisingly, one of the best is a two piano duet for Dorantes and Diego Amador. They both have spectacular technique, but what really distinguishes “Cartagenera y Bulerías” is just the sheer contagious fun they are having playing together.

This time around, Saura’s approach will be somewhat controversial for purists, because he includes several younger, fusionistic performers, such as Rocío Molina. However, when she dances “Garrotín” with a cigarillo clenched in her lips, she looks like she could have been Bizet’s inspiration for Carmen. Yet perhaps the most striking choreography comes on the sacred-themed “Holy Week,” which also stretches our conceptions of flamenco in a different way.

Shot entirely within the Seville Pavilion for 1992 Expo, F-F has a real sense of flowing space, accentuated by Storaro’s swooping camera that often matches the dancers’ dramatic moves. At times, Saura uses gallery motifs for his backdrops, but he often just employs warm primary colors to set-off the performers. Aside from his previous films (such as Tango and Fados), the most logical comparative would be Trueba’s Calle 54, which is high praise indeed. A rich feast for eyes and ears alike, Flamenco, Flamenco is highly recommended for general audiences, whether they think they like flamenco or not, when it opens this Friday (11/21) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.