Flamenco, Flamenco achieves something akin to pure form in movement, opting to abandon conventional narrative in favor of an unchained camera that engages kinetic dancing and performing not as a musical number or set piece, but as a degree of storytelling in and of itself. Filmed at the Seville Expo ’92 pavilion and adorned with numerous classical artworks ranging from Goya to Picasso, the film finds Carlos Saura rendering 21 different flamenco routines across a span of 97 minutes, though few of the sequences bear visual resemblance to one another beyond their shared form of dance. No context is provided, nor is there a talking head to be found. Saura, working with veteran cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, rebuffs context by charging the performers’ intensity to an uninterrupted state of vibrant cultural expression.
That vibrancy comes via the film’s wildly oscillating color palette, which changes with each number to sometimes jarring, but consistently enlivening, effects. The staging of “Cartagenera y Bulerías,” for example, encloses a pair of dueling pianists within a series of unnamed artworks, adorned in front of a larger landscape background. The décor has changed substantially from the previous performance, though Saura dynamizes rather than stagnates the space by capturing the opening bit in a single take, which dollies out, then back in on one of the performers. Later in the performance, Saura shoots the pianos overhead, actively defying the film-as-theater conceit his film could more simply seek to construct. Yet little of this is surprising given the film’s opening shot, which tilts down from a low-angle shot of the pavilion’s ceiling before slowly tracking through a series of large paintings, and finally arriving at the first set of performers. Saura’s proclivity for capturing and embodying mobility is as enamoring as the music itself.
Saura speaks to narrative through what’s omitted—namely, any desire to actively articulate the heritage endemic to the sounds and images on screen. But Spanish culture abounds throughout; in the most memorable sequence, titled “Copla Por Bulería,” three singers perform around a small circular table, with a single, large overhead light, mimicking the style of a police-interrogation room. The dimly lit background gradually reveals a series of film posters featuring Lola Flores, while the camera tracks around the table, unveiling the 360-degree space. Saura recognizes cinema and flamenco as entwined not just via this film, but also through various forms of pop culture that necessarily bleed into one another, paradoxically seared into cultural memory despite their intended ephemera as performative or disposable art.
The film keeps confined to the same setting for its duration, but the musical numbers are not performed in front of an audience, nor is there any indication of immediate thematic relation between the performances. Instead, Saura offers a procession of distilled exuberance, as if calling the bluff of spectacle-oriented narrative cinema that necessitates excusing its excesses with characters and plotting. There’s a world of narrative in Flamenco, Flamenco, but it remains implicit within the traditions so passionately rendered. Only at the film’s end does the camera stray from the pavilion’s confines, with a tilt toward the sky. Perhaps it’s an act of deference to the concluding shot of Altman’s Nashville, or perhaps it’s offering what’s preceded as a humanist respite from the giant satellite which also occupies the shot. After all, what comprehensively remains just off screen in Flamenco, Flamenco, at least until its final moments, is the technological stranglehold of modernity.