DVD Review: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy

★★★★☆
During the 1980s - and as one of Spain's most influential directors - Carlos Saura moved away from his Franco-era political films such as Ana y Los Lobos (1973) and the sensational Cria Cuervos (Raise Ravens, 1976) to focus on his lifelong passion for flamenco. Saura created a sumptuous trilogy examining this quintessentially Spanish element of Hispanic culture, using flamenco's rigidly choreographed dance routines and vibrant music to depict the powerfully emotive themes of romance and unrequited love.

The first film in the Flamenco Trilogy is Blood Wedding (1981), a rural Andalusian tragedy starring Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos and Antonio Jimenez which depicts a dance company performing a dress rehearsal of Federico García Lorca's play of the same name. An intense and passionate tale of arranged marriage and secret romance, Blood Wedding is a 'behind-the-scenes' expose of musical productions which not only captures the brooding emotions behind its subject matter but also allows a fascinating insight into the mechanics behind such stage performances.

Sandwiched in the middle of this flamboyant collection of films is perhaps the most famous of Saura's trilogy, Carmen (1983). Nominated at the 1984 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film (missing out to Ingmar Bergman's exquisite Fanny and Alexander [1982]) Carmen is an adaptation of Georges Bizet's world famous opera and, like Blood Wedding, intertwines rehearsals of a flamenco rendition of the opera with a parallel story of art versus life.

Carmen follows the story of an actress and dancer who falls in love with her choreographer, with the film using energetic dance routines to beautifully punctuate the opera's erotically-charged tale whilst adding an intoxicating vibrancy to the proceedings. Carmen is not only a deeply passionate love story but also a fascinating examination of how art is created, exposing the recurring issue of how the personal conflicts of life can often stifle the creative process.

El Amor Brujo (1986) completes the collection and like its predecessors is based on a stage production. Featuring a tale of gypsy love against adversity the film is yet another cinematic ballet recreated through a gorgeous collection of lively music and striking composition. Featuring far less dancing, yet lacking non of the passion of Blood Wedding and Carmen, Saura's third flamenco film was also nominated for an Academy Award and beautifully concludes this celebration of music and Spanish culture.

Saura's decision not to dumb down or overly dramatise these stage adaptations has helped created an intoxicating collection of films which each share a similar thematic and stylish template whilst retaining their own unique identity. Like the operatic source material of these films - which uses music to articulate their characters emotions - Saura's use of flamenco amplifies the on screen action with a feisty Latin tinged aesthetic that makes these three film's a must see for anyone with a wider appreciation of the arts.

Patrick Gamble

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