The agony and the ec­stasy

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

Fla­menco, Fla­menco, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cin­ema, 3 chiles The cam­era tilts down from the grace­ful arch­ing gird­ers of Seville’s Expo ’ 92 pavil­ion into an as­sem­bled gallery of huge poster-sized blowups of art, mostly fea­tur­ing women, mostly Span­ish themes and artists, mostly fla­men­coori­ented. We move through them, and up onto a hard­wood dance floor.

We are in the hands of eighty-two-year-old master film­maker and con­nois­seur of Span­ish dance Car­los Saura, and his fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor, the leg­endary Ital­ian cin­e­matog­ra­pher Vit­to­rio Storaro, whose name is as fluid as his Os­car-win­ning cam­er­a­work ( The Last Em­peror). And we are on our way to see and hear fla­menco, the clas­sic Span­ish mu­si­cal form that has been doc­u­mented since the 18th cen­tury.

There is no nar­ra­tive, there is no di­a­logue, no voice-over, no sub­ti­tles, only ti­tles iden­ti­fy­ing the per­form­ers and the num­bers. When they sing, the words are left un­trans­lated, but if you are not flu­ent in Span­ish, you needn’t worry about miss­ing their mean­ing. Ev­ery word, ev­ery ulu­lat­ing cry is ripped from the gut, torn from the heart, lifted by pow­er­ful voices rasp­ing with emo­tion. And when they dance, they hit the hard floor with ham­mer­ing heels, bat­ter­ing out stac­cato rhythms like bursts of au­to­matic weapons.

Some­times the set­ting is as sim­ple as a rude ta­ble, with three men sit­ting around it, tap­ping out the time with their hands as one of them sings. Some­times there is a color-drenched pro­jec­tion be­hind the per­form­ers, some­times a bare stage. There’s even a rain­storm. Some of the dancers and singers are in street clothes, many are cos­tumed. The color red dom­i­nates.

They are old, and they are young. They are ag­ing leg­ends, and new ris­ing tal­ents. They are dancers, and singers, and in­stru­men­tal vir­tu­osi. They are men, and they are women, and this is what the fla­menco form seems to em­pha­size — the power and the pas­sion of the male and the fe­male.

Saura presents the mu­si­cal num­bers, with­out com­ment, one after the other, 21 of them, and much of the pro­gram is steeped in the an­guished melan­choly of love lost, but then, when you’re not ex­pect­ing it, some joy creeps in — some fun, a few sly smiles — and you re­al­ize this is an id­iom that cel­e­brates love’s ex­u­ber­ance as well as its agony. And even the pain is there to be rel­ished.

Some of the artists will be fa­mil­iar to afi­ciona­dos of the genre, singers like Car­los Gar­cía and Maria Án­ge­les Fernán­dez, dancers like Eva Yerbabuena, Sara Baras, and Is­rael Galván. The sev­enty-seven-year-old legend María Bala, sis­ter of the great singer Manuel Soto Sordera, makes her fi­nal recorded ap­pear­ance here be­fore her death this past March.

Saura knows his way around a dance floor. His 1998 Tango was nom­i­nated for an Os­car, and a few years be­fore that he made a doc­u­men­tary called Fla­menco. This time he’s dou­bled the stakes with Fla­menco, Fla­menco. If you don’t like fla­menco, this will give you twice the in­cen­tive to stay away. If you don’t know fla­menco, this will be a bap­tism of fire, and by the time you leave you’ll know whether you like it or not. And if you love fla­menco, happy hol­i­days!

— Jonathan Richards

Ladies in red: a stam­pede of fla­menco sirens

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