Sunday, March 28, 2010

Film Review: CARMEN (1983, Carlos Saura)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Antonio Gades (EL AMOR BRUJO), Laura del Sol (THE HIT), Paco de Lucía.
Tag-line: "Never before has the art of flamenco dance been so pulsatingly sensual. Or a love so treacherously obsessive. In this explosive interpretation of the classic opera "Carmen", the lines between passionate illusion and real life become intricately entwined. Your senses will be aroused like never before. And never again will you see anything like it."

The second film in his Flamenco Trilogy, Carlos Saura's CARMEN does what basically all those Golan-Globus dance movies (BREAKIN', LAMBADA, SALSA) aspired to do: it's a behind-the-scenes drama of virtuoso performers designed to showcase their talent and to capture a little bit of their passión on celluloid - to fleetingly catch a little of that lightning in a bottle.

Now, CARMEN boldly omits land-developer villains, spit-takes, windmills, and 'Shabba Doo' Quinones- and manages to be an incredibly compelling meditation on the nature of dance and the relationship between reality and art. Saura (CRIA CUERVOS, BLOOD WEDDING, FADOS) possesses an extreme confidence in the material (from Antonio Gades' choreography to Bizet's opera to Laura del Sol's fiery presence) and feels free to weave a non-traditionally-paced narrative.

Large blocks of the film are simply rehearsal, but it never drags- Saura constructs a natural rhythm for the proceedings: frenetic energy and vibrant motion are juxtaposed with stillness and silence.

His use of space is remarkable, and the whirling, boot-stamping flamenco would not be as powerful if Saura weren't so attentive to the geometry of the surroundings and the manner in which space expands: two-way mirrors, curtains, shades, and prison doors frame and extend his filmic canvas. Life teems within the frame- elaborate tracking shots of dashing feet; earth-toned backgrounds evenly sprinkled with costumes in vivid, primary colors; and the settling of differences through a cane-fight that would make Fosse blush.

We even get a supporting role by Spanish guitar maestro Paco de Lucía as himself (who kinda looks like he could be a Carradine brother).

Paco Carradine?

In all, one of the great dance films, and a fine entry to the 'art imitating life imitating art' genre. Four stars.

And by the way, thank God I do not live underneath a Flamenco studio.

-Sean Gill

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