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José Luis López Vázquez,
A group of flamenco dancers are rehearsing a very spanish version of the Prosper Merimee's drama. Antonio (the coreographer) falls in love with Carmen (the main dancer). Their story then turns similar to the play. Written by
Michel Rudoy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Never before has the art of flamenco dance been so pulsatingly sensual. Or a love so treacherously obsessive. In this explosive interpretation of the classic opera "Carmen", the lines between passionate illusion and real life become intricately entwined. Your senses will be aroused like never before. And never again will you see anything like it. See more »
The picture was nominated for the Best Foreign Film in a number of award systems including the Cesars (French Oscars), the Golden Globes and the Oscars (Academy Awards) but did not win any of these but was successful in winning the BAFTA for Best Foreign Film. See more »
Filmed in Spain by Spaniards, this is a Spanish tale based on a French novel and the French opera which it inspired. Saura's flamenco "Carmen" is an exciting work of art.
A modern ensemble of musicians and dancers is rehearsing a flamenco interpretation of the Carmen story. The producer and star dancer is Antonio (Antonio Gades). The setting appears to be suburban Madrid, but we see so little of the world outside the rehearsal room that it hardly matters. Antonio has done his research, and has become obsessed with the Carmen legend. He chooses a girl named Carmen to play 'his' Carmen, and life begins tragically to imitate art ...
The opening credits are backed by Dore prints with Bizet playing. This is clearly going to be a production which makes clever use of the many-layered Carmen myth. And so it proves. Antonio pores over his copy of Merimee, and as a knot of singers and guitarists breaks into an improvised buleria, we hear Bizet jarringly overlaid. Antonio is being pulled in two directions, simultaneously possessed by the duende of authentic flamenco and lured by the bewitching Carmen of 19th-century romanticism. One current, the flamenco, is spontaneous and natural, the other is unSpanish and highly theatrical. Both are warring and fermenting within Antonio's psyche.
Cats don't come when you call them, observes Antonio, and they come when you don't call. Herein is the essence of Carmen's wild character. Antonio has Cristina as his senior dancer (the marvellous Cristina Hoyos), but as he tells her, good though she is, she is not 'the' Carmen. He travels to Seville (where else?) in search of his ideal, and there he finds his leading lady - and his nemesis. The young gypsy beauty scrambles into the dance class late, her unruly dignity immediately apparent, and we see in Antonio's face that he knows. This is 'his' Carmen.
The film's artistic conceit is a subtle movement between actuality and fantasy, echoing the conflict between the truth of flamenco and the falseness of the Bizet Carmen. Are Cristina and Carmen at each other's throats in real life, or is this Antonio's heated imagination expanding on the Tabacalera clash? Is the Habanera scene a straightforward rehearsal, or Antonio's reverie? Does Carmen really appear wearing the high comb and mantilla, or has Antonio succumbed to the myth?
Antonio 'sculpts' Carmen, teaching the youngster how to dance, and how to feel the dance. He pushes her hard and makes enormous physical demands of her, yet from the first cigarette the dynamics are established - Carmen is unknowable, untameable. Antonio will end by destroying his creation. He is Don Jose, and he can't help it.
In this deeply attractive film, some scenes transcend even the excellent norm. Such a scene is the Tabacalera number. The women pound the tables in a flamenco rhythm as they sing the haunting "Don't Go Near The Brambles". The hostility between Cristina and Carmen boils over into violence, faithfully reproducing Merimee and Bizet, and all portrayed in dance. As Antonio arrives in the role of Don Jose to arrest the gypsy wildcat, Bizet's tragic motif begins to play.
Carmen and Antonio drink a glass of manzanilla together, symbolically cementing their relationship. At her bidding, Antonio dances the Farruca, the 'baile jondo', the key which unlocks the secret of flamenco. Aroused, Carmen joins in, and the dance (always a metaphor for copulation) merges into actual lovemaking. But delight is followed by disappointment. At 2am, Antonio wakes to find Carmen grabbing her clothes and slipping away. It is futile to ask why. She is Carmen.
Antonio dances alone in the rehearsal room. The room's stark cuboid, with its whole-wall mirror, makes an interesting contrast with his fluid, mobile form. Does dancing help him think? Do his thoughts inspire his dance? The image of a man moving beautifully in a bare box of a room is one of the film's quiet triumphs.
At this crucial point in their blossoming love affair, Carmen and Antonio begin to take divergent paths. This is intelligently depicted by the use of parallel scenes. Antonio sweeps open the drapes to let in the first light of a new day while, somewhere else, electronic grilles part in a parody of Antonio's curtains to admit Carmen to a prison. She is visiting the jailbird husband whom she doesn't love. Antonio has grown emotionally: Carmen is a low-life hustler incapable of change. In a Christ-like gesture, Antonio drinks a solitary glass of manzanilla, the cup of the passion which will not pass him by.
The best scene of the film, straddling reality and fantasy, ordinariness and high artifice, dance and dialogue, is the poker game. The jailbird Jose Fernandez has left prison and joined the troupe. There is a powerful flamenco dance in which Antonio and the gitano confront each other and fight. Afterwards, as he gets up from the floor, Jose removes his wig and others gather round, solicitous for his well-being. Once more, the film has drawn us into an emotional conflict, only to strip away the illusion.
Other treasures abound. The corrida is lovingly depicted in mock-dance, with balletic veronicas and a silent faena: then there is the 'dance-off' between a jealous Antonio and an imperious Carmen, with their contrasting rhythmic signatures: and the squalor of betrayal and abuse in which the story culminates. The presence of Paco de Lucia, legendary guitarist and the scion of a great flamenco dynasty, is in itself a certificate of the film's artistic authenticity.
Verdict - a superb, unfussy modern work which captures the strong flavour of this ancient Spanish folk-art on film.
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