A companion piece to Flamenco, Flamenco, Carlos Saura’s 2010 film exploring 21 different forms of flamenco dancing, Argentina features episodic sequences of traditional Argentine dance and music traditions, but lacks the formal rigor and energy of its predecessor. Without cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and a freer sense of movement and intricate stage design, Argentina seldom transcends its status as a feature-length, educational music video.
Saura confirms that impression during a sequence devoted to Mercedes Sosa, whose recorded performance of “Todo Cambia” is shown to a group of school children as they sing and drum along to the music while seated at their desks. Saura’s camera tracks along the children’s faces as Sosa’s music swells to its haunting refrain, and the effect is moving in its juxtaposition of a cultural icon’s finest work with several innocent minds soaking up such beautiful sounds. It’s one of the film’s most unique passages, mixing song, history, and mediation as a tool for reviving musical traditions that could otherwise be forgotten in the face of more immediate, ephemeral cultural concerns.
However, no other renditions achieve this level of depth, since the film is predominately a series of live performances staged in a style that often involves a singer or two and an equal number of dancers. Whereas Flamenco, Flamenco treated such acts with fluid camera movements and an emphasis on set decoration, this film stagnates its spatial orientation by restricting camera mobility and focusing more on capturing dimensions of the performances in close-up. An early number in the Chacarera Doble style is particularly endemic of this restrictive approach, as a solo artist stares directly into the static camera while singing. In the foreground, a couple dances, but there’s no greater sense of how the music and dance fit together or exactly how this style differs from, say, the Bailecito performance that opens the film.
With no talking heads or supplementary footage to flesh out the various musical genres, the onus falls on Saura’s aesthetics to relate the breadth of these Argentinian cultural forms, but the director’s approach is too stagnant and repetitive to provide such insight. At the end of Flamenco, Flamenco, when the camera tracks out of the sound stage in the film’s final scene and turned its gaze toward the sky, there’s a true sense of being transported and hypnotized by an entirely different realm of artistic possibility. With just a few comparably enlivened passages in Argentina, Saura’s direction feels less like the work of a masterclass DJ of a specific musical culture than that of a great artist dutifully hopping from one former hit to the next.