Consisting of 1981′s Bodas De Sangre (Blood Wedding), 1983′s Carmen and 1986′s El Amor Brujo (Love, The Magician) the Flamenco Trilogy from director Carlos Saura comprise a curious set. Linked by a common cast (Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos and Laura del Sol) and all of them shot with a deliberately stagey feel, they will doubtless appeal to fans of vigorous and passionate Spanish dancing but may struggle to find an audience outside of those admittedly narrow tramlines.
Blood Wedding begins with the cast of a dance production applying their make-up before they launch into an energetic rehearsal under the tutelage of Antonio Gades’ choreographer (who assisted with the choreography for the entire trilogy). The wedding of the title is spoiled by the bride running off with Gades’ Leonardo, who the groom must track down and confront. In the end, this is an impressive showcase for vibrant Latin dancing, but pretty lightweight as a film and lacking in much in the way of narrative, acting, or any of the other conventions of orthodox film-making. That is not to dismiss it outright, rather to recognise its limitations and aspirations.
Carmen is a vast improvement, with Gades’ Antonio putting on an adaptation of Bizet’s opera, Carmen. He casts Laura del Sol’s Carmen as, well, Carmen and art starts to imitate life as his own jealousy of Carmen reflects the jealousy his character feels towards Carmen’s. Del Sol makes for a compelling screen presence, progressing from passionate but raw as a dancing talent, to someone more fully-formed. The overlap between the themes of the production and the underlying/overlaying narrative of the film are cleverly handled. Think of it as a much, much simpler Synecdoche, New York with a smaller set and bigger heels.
After the improvement shown in film-making technique with Carmen, El Amor Brujo feels like something of a let down. As deliberately stage-bound as the other two films, EAB gives us an arranged marriage, tragic death, a haunting dead husband and an attempt to bring peace to a departed soul. The dancing is as impeccable as ever, but the story is so slight that it struggles and ultimately fails to grab and old the attention. The cinematography has something to commend it, but for long stretches you are watching dance routines with cumbersomely translated song lyrics running across them and it is not an approach that particularly succeeds. Unlike with the superior Carmen, you are left feeling that you could have just as easily watched a dance performance and left the flimsy plot well alone.
While Carmen is an interesting exercise in depicting life imitating art and all three films are a feast for those who enjoy watching high calibre dancing, ultimately the assessment of them as films is that they are lacking in certain crucial building blocks. Experimental cinema, or at least unconventional cinema is of course no crime and need not be a detraction in and of itself, but the overall effect of all but the central entry in this trilogy is disengagement and, unfortunately, a bit of boredom. The acting tends towards the melodramatic/overwrought and by and large the filming style leaves you feeling like you are watching a carefully filmed dance rehearsal. You can rent or buy the trilogy here.
Bodas De Sangre (2/5)
El Amor Brujo (2/5)