Carlos Saura’s Flamenco trilogy is renowned for its ability to capture the essence of one of Spain’s most recognisable cultural phenomenons. Combining song, dance and guitar, the flamenco presented in this trilogy neatly reflects each film’s depiction of rural tragedy, deceptive love and corruptive lust. Although telling different stories, the films build upon one another, presenting the same cast in different situations but each time confronted by the same themes.
Blood Wedding (1981)
In Blood Wedding, Carlos Saura challenges our perceptions of both cinema and art in tampering with the fourth wall aspect of film. At first we are presented with the messy confusion of the cast rehearsing their roles, bemoaning the discomfort their shoes give them and warming up for a day of dancing. We are never given the final finished product, instead we watch as they carry out their full dress rehearsal. This warts and all approach is intriguing but detracts from the power of the story they tell in the final half of the film. Much of the performance of Blood Wedding relies on subtle looks and implied gestures. It allows for an organic telling of the tragedy, in which love is threatened by arranged marriage, but other aspects of the film, perhaps most notably Antonio Gades’ short voice over, aren’t given enough screen time.
Adapted from Prosper Merimee’s novel, Carmen, the second entry in the trilogy, again blurs the boundary between the real and the performed. It’s a story within a story, as Gades finds himself this time falling for the actress he chooses to play the lead in his new performance. Jealousy, love and lust are pitted against the clourful and well-directed backdrop of the film which itself incorporates some strong set pieces, including the tobacco factory rehearsal. Life imitates art as Antonio spirals into disrepair when Carmen’s fidelity is brought into question. Reminiscent of 2011’s Black Swan, this BAFTA-winning entry in the trilogy is stronger than its predecessor, making better use of the mixing of the cast’s real and proposed characters.
Love, The Magician (1986)
The final entry in the trilogy, Love, The Magician, is arguably the best. Here the blurring of reality and performance is kept to a minimum, with us only seeing the strings as it were in the opening moments of the film. Love, The Magician evokes the supernatural and we watch as a bride (Cristina Hoyos) slowly loses her grip on reality after her cheating husband is killed. He haunts her every night and it is up to Carmela (Gades) to try and break the spell. Although it feels different to the previous two films, many of the trilogy’s themes are still present. Jail time is spent, and weddings feature prominently. Confirming the importance of love and lust in the working of the trilogy, Love, The Magician incorporates its dance with its subject matter delicately and masterfully.
Fans of the genre will be bewitched by this trilogy but those who prefer big blockbusters may do well to steer clear. A subtle and nuanced collection, The Flamenco Trilogy combines art and life in an intoxicating way.
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