Last week I was fortunate enough to see a preview of the new film by Carlos Saura, Flamenco Flamenco. It was at the Seville Film Festival, an annual event which is growing in size and stature each year. The preview took place the same day as the Gala, but was a more prosaic affair, although it was followed by a press conference attended by some of the stars. The general release date of the film is this Friday, 19 November. It's probably not a coincidence (although Saura denied its importance in the press conference) that this is the same week when UNESCO will decide whether flamenco should be accepted onto the list of Cultural Heritage. This is a subject which has received endless coverage in the Spanish press (especially here in Andalucia), Facebook campaigns, TV ads, BBC TV news reports, the works. So this week there is much antici......pation. Anyway, to the film. As I've said before in this blog, I know nothing about flamenco, just that I like it (the dancing and the guitar more than the singing; in fact, I had a flamenco guitarist at my wedding; I will never forget how my husband's aunt wept uncontrollably as he played Paco de Lucia). The film is basically a showcase for the best flamenco performers (Saura said one of the most difficult things was choosing the artists): 15 or so of the main exponents of the form, from Farruquito's little brother, to the grey-haired but sprightly Manolo Sanlucar. I had heard of most of the major performers, which tells you how famous they are. As I can't comment on the quality of the singing, dancing, or playing, I'll just tell you how it came across to me. First of all, if you're a flamenco novice, or ignoramus, then don't expect any explanation about the different types of song (buleria, alegria, rumba; solea, seguiriya, saeta). If you're really organised, you can read up on them first, but basically the first three styles of palo (song) are happy, the last three sad; saetas are sung during Semana Santa; if you've ever been, you'll have heard one. Obviously, it's a lot more complicated than that - you can also have buleria por solea and solea por buleria, but let's not get into all that now (OK, I can't because I haven't a clue - so forgive me my trespasses, please).
The film is beautifully shot, with amazing lighting - lots of moody shadows and backlighting; use of mirrors - curved surfaces giving soft, impressionistic reflections; and, most importantly, use of panels depicting paintings typical of Andalucia, including Cordoban artist Julio Romero de Torres, whose soft, sensual works often show women dancing, holding fans (a language in itself), or lying around looking sexy. These give a clear Andalucian contest, with the dress and attitudes of women who could only be from southern Spain. Other pictures were of Klimt's redheaded lovers. The film was shot in the Pabellon del Futuro, in the Isla de Cartuja in Seville, a huge, industrial warehouse-type building, on a stage furnished with the mirrors, paintings, and little else, leaving the artists to take the focus of our attention. The first singer, during the opening credits, is surprisingly un-flamenco: blonde, a copla singer, no histrionics, or agonised grimaces typical of the pain and passion of flamenco; she sings "Verde Que Te Quiero Verde", a Lorca poem. The opening dance piece is one of the best; Sara Baras in a red dress with a huge swirling skirt (see above), a visual feast, a splash of vivid colour against the earthy landscape backdrop. She can bend backwards to a 90-degree angle, and has stomach muscles any gym enthusiast would kill for. I don't have space to go through all 21 pieces, so I'll just highlight a few. Israel Galvan is a dancer who takes flamenco to different places - his piece is performed without music, quite an achievement in itself, and he wears a white shirt, white trousers and white boots. Quirky and humorous, his style reminded me of the wonderful Belgian-Moroccan dancer I saw recently in the Bienal de Flamenco in Seville. He moves behind the paintings, becoming part of them in silhouette; his movements are reflected in the shiny floor, as is the moon in the backdrop, which sends a pool of light within which he dances. Farruquito's 13-year-old brother, El Carpeta, is a star in the making. His dance piece was short (it comes immediately after Israel Galvan's), but it is performed with the same level of skill and artistry as all the others (to my untrained eye, anyway). He has an audience of other children sitting on the floor in front of him - just as well, since it's easy to forget this good-looking niño wearing a sharp three-piece suit is just that - a boy. One of the biggest new stars of flamenco is Estrella Morente, who sings a tango, shimmying gently as she goes, her long, wavy hair tossed over her shoulder, and her red and black dress flirting with her palmeros (clappers). Great cantante, terrible teeth - dentists clearly not top of the agenda for artists. My other three favourites were the Buleria de Jerez - a big group with all ages - middle-aged ladies, elderly ladies, young men - who take a turn, including a solid lady in a turquoise dress - the first traditional flamenco dress of the film - who flashes her knickers at the end of her bit. ¡Ole! An ensemble of seven girls performed two pieces, the second of which was called El Tiempo, and was beautifully choregraphed; I've never seen flamenco group-style before; it looked amazing. And I haven't even mentioned Eva Yerbabuena and Miguel Poveda in the rain; Paco de Lucia, the granddaddy of flamenco guitarists, playing his new composition; Niña Pastori and Tomatito; Farruquito performing with a family gang which includes his grandfather, Farruquo, with whom he performed as a boy in Saura's 1994 film Flamenco; Jose Merce; and the venerable Manolo Sanlucar. Don't go expecting to learn anything concrete about flamenco; just sit back and let the music, colours, light and rhythms wash over you. It's like tapas of flamenco - a little bit of each, and overall it makes a delicious, rounded, varied, flavourful meal. Watch the film's trailer here.