Spanish director Carlos Saura has been known for his lovingly crafted flamenco films since the 1980s, sealing his status with 1994’s Flamenco, a pristine showcase of that era’s greatest flamenco music and dance artists.
Now Saura has topped that achievement with a sequel, Flamenco Flamenco, joining once again with master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro to create a rapturous homage, not only to the genre’s artistry, but to its tradition, soul and spirit.
Equal credit for this achievement belongs to Storaro (an Oscar winner for Apocalypse Now and The Last Emperor), whose stunning use of light is so visually luscious and sensual as to be almost tangible, and whose graceful, exquisitely calculated camerawork, caressing the performers, or joining them in movement, lifts the film to a sensory level so rich that it’s practically physical.
Flamenco Flamenco opens by zooming in through a vast hall filled with flamenco images, copies of historic paintings and prints which become a changing backdrop to the performers, situating them in a shifting historic passage.
The light also changes over the course of the film, from rich golden sunset tones (often set against panoramic painted landscapes); to richly somber nighttime interiors; to harsh, cool settings that imply a ghostly spiritual life; to brightly lit scenes of rebirth and vitality.
Musical director Isidro Muñoz has done a masterful job of selecting artists who range from elderly masters such as Paco de Lucia to the phenomenal boy dancer Manuel Fernandez ‘El Carpeta.’
As in the first Flamenco film, sections of dance and music alternate without narration. It opens with Carlos Garcia singing a love song — to a woman, or perhaps to flamenco itself. Dancer Sara Baras, in a flaring scarlet dress that bares her undulating back and sharply curving arms, swirls like a red bird in flight, while Rocio Molina, cigarette dangling and boots chattering, seems a modern, urban Carmen, stalking defiantly.
Musical segments zero in on intense, interior emotions: Jose Merce sings a stark, wrenching martinete, accompanied by a lone, silhouetted figure pounding a hammer on an anvil. Miguel Poveda could be in a tavern, seated at a table, singing an ode to four women, and surrounded by posters of famous dancers. Legendary guitarist Paco de Lucia leads a circle of singers, fingering intricate, implacable rhythms, worn face cracking into a faint smile at the raw response he elicits.
The way that Saura and Storaro place these master artists visually adds new depths, new emotional or conceptual subtext, to their performances. Eva Yerbabuena and the five musicians accompanying her seem to merge into “El Jaleo,” John Singer Sargent’s famous painting of a dancer, as if to bring the past alive. In “El Tiempo,” a group of female dancers move amidst a phalanx of mirrors, their dance echoing in a seemingly endless parade of images.
Poveda and Yerbabuena sing and dance together under a shower of rain, the light sculpting their faces, gleaming off the water, while the camera moves in a kind of dizzying ecstasy.
There are dark moments — an agonized a cappella song from the lone Maria Bala; a hypnotic, idiosyncratic dance in silence from a white-clad Israel Galvan, moving like a ghost amidst giant paintings.
But the movie returns to brilliant, vital life — the electrifying Farruquito, young and taut, dancing with joyful virtuosity in a circle of musicians, the embodiment of flamenco’s indomitable energy. The film ends with a big multi-generational group, from wrinkled grandmothers to earnest teenagers, singing, clapping and dancing in a traditional communal flamenco celebration.
Their song echoes as the camera pulls back through the hall of paintings, their celebration taking its place in flamenco’s long, continuing story.
Cast: Sara Baras, Roco Molina, Miguel Poveda, Eva Yerbabuena, Jose Merce, Israel Galvan, Arcangel, Manolo Sanlucar, Niña Pastori, Estrella Morente, Tomatito, Paco de Lucia.
Director: Carlos Saura.
Director of Photography: Vittorio Storaro.
Musical Director: Isidro Muñoz.
A General de Producciones y Diseño (GPD) release. Running time: 90 minutes. In Spanish. Playing at: Coral Gables Art Cinema.