(Carlos Saura, Spain, 1995)


This film gave me goosebumps – and that happened within two minutes of the first scene.

Carlos Saura has blazed a trail in popularising a purely musical cinematic form, as he did in his brilliant Sevillanas (1992): just a succession of songs and dances, with no plot or filler material.

How Saura stages this parade of acts matters. In Flamenco he uses a vast hall (an ex-train station) in Seville, which he then decks out with partitions, screens and large mirrors. The celebrated cinematographer Vittorio Storaro defines the space and sculpts the human figures with an ever-changing, ultra-sensitive play of lights.

And what figures they are. The film presents many diverse ensembles who offer us a beautiful panorama of flamenco styles. We see and appreciate the smallest and grandest performing gestures, from a singer producing an impassioned sound to a dancer striking a magnificently terse pose.

It is a little perverse for English-language distributors to release this film in an unsubtitled print – losing for non-Spanish-speaking viewers not only all the lyrics, but also an introductory narration. And it is possible that Saura is so in love with his subject that he includes a few too many numbers, unbalancing the overall build-up.

This is not in the class of Tony Gatlif’s masterpiece Latcho Drom (1993). But, fundamentally, Flamenco is the kind of film that makes critics redundant. The performers and performances that Saura kindly presents are, quite simply, magnificent. And not only does he give us the ultimate flamenco revue, he also evokes an almost sacred sense of ritual and tradition – a living tradition passed on to the young in a final, breathtaking scene.

MORE Saura: Tango

© Adrian Martin March 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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