Spain 1995

Reviewed by Jos Arroyo


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

In the old Plaza de Armas train station in Seville some of the greatest exponents of flamenco show off their artistry by playing, dancing or singing in various styles including bulerías, guajiras, alegrías, soleas, tangos, villancicos and farrucas.


While lovers of the musical mourn its passing in Hollywood, Carlos Saura - Spain's greatest director of art cinema in the 60s and 70s - has diligently produced a body of remarkable films in the genre. From the flamenco trilogy he made in the 80s (Bodas de sangre, Carmen and El amor brujo) to more recent forays such as Ay, Carmela!, Sevillanas and Tango, Saura has now spent 20 years paring down the musical, adapting it to Hispanic forms of music and dance and collaborating with the greatest dancers, choreographers and musicians of flamenco and tango. With the possible exceptions of Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris, 1951) and Bob Fosse (All that Jazz, 1979), no one has filmed dance better; certainly no one is doing it better now.

Flamenco is deceptively simple. Initially one wonders if it's a documentary. The setting is the old Plaza de Armas train station in Seville, transformed into an impromptu performance space. The structure of the film is quasi-educational: some of the most acclaimed contemporary performers demonstrate their virtuosity in the various styles flamenco takes, impressing us with the range, depth and expressivity of the form. The brief voiceover at the beginning tells us that flamenco has its roots in the mixture of peoples, religions and cultures in Andalusia in the south of Spain. There, a combination of Arabic jarachas, Greek choruses, Castilian epic poetry, Jewish lament and black music from Cuba (son) received a gypsy accent and developed into flamenco as we know it today.

We soon realise, however, that Flamenco is less a straight documentary than an intensely creative response to the aesthetic and cultural particularities of flamenco dance and music. Through its theatrical presentation, striking cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango in Paris, 1972) and minimal but vivid set design, Saura's mise en scène gives visual expression to flamenco's vibrancy. All the singers and dancers are filmed in front of modernist settings: brightly coloured circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. These shapes shift and blend within the frame to create a sparse but dramatic context for the performers; the visual strength of Saura's film thus lies in its formal hybridity and adaptability, both of which are essential properties of flamenco.

Saura also uses light and shadow as key elements in the look of the film. Dancers enter into the light, then disappear out of it and encircle it. The line of their bodies and their responses to the beat of the music are rhymed with or used as counterpoint to the play of light and shadow on screen. Mirrors create a sense of depth: feet are seen close-up while the rest of the body is visible as a reflection. Camera angles are chosen to capture formations of dancers while never losing sight of the individuals involved; camera movements similarly respect the bodies, skills and co-ordination of the dancers and the gathering force of symmetry. The editing is co-ordinated not only with music but with line.

Aspects of star persona aren't forgotten in the staging either: Joaquín Cortés, arguably the biggest star in the film, is shot at a distance distinctly greater than that of the other performers. Though his trademark long mane and bare chest are visible, the camera, in emphasising the body in movement (through medium long-shots) rather than the individual performer, draws our attention away from Cortés' show-business persona and highlights his impressive talents as a dancer.

Flamenco is a music of the dispossessed. While the dance is capable of describing and evoking fiery passions, these intense feelings are more often about bread than sex. Songs here tell of hunger, betrayal, Jesus being turned away from the inn. Flamenco's wail often reminds people of American blues because it articulates emotional and social wants and yet, through its raw and abundant expressive power, it simultaneously seems to answer these wants: shared singing and dancing thus offer a magical compensation.

In keeping with the utopian sensibilities of many Hollywood musicals, Saura shows us old dancing with young, professional performers alternating with people seemingly off the street, the haggard and worn dancing alongside the sleek and well nourished. By the end of the film, all these individual dancers and singers come together in a dance that breaks through previous scenes of individual pain into a joyous sharing. The dispossessed are here seen to come together in a community of plenty, immediacy, transparency and energy. Saura doesn't skimp on the pain that gives rise to and finds expression in so much flamenco; but working with a troupe of some of its best practitioners, he transforms it into art, and thus into a kind of joy. It's simple but it is so in a way only great films can be - simply great.


Carlos Saura
Juan Lebrón
Carlos Saura
Director of Photography
Vittorio Storaro
Pablo del Amo
Art Director
Rafael Palmero
©Juan Lebrón Producciones, S.A.
Production Companies
A Juan Lebrón Producciones production with the participation of RTVA Radio Televisión de Andalucía and with collaboration of Sogepaq/Canal+
España/Junta de Andalucía/Sociedad General de Autores y Editores
Executive Producer
José López Rodero
International Production
Mauro Sacripanti
Production Manager
Carlos Regidor
Assistant Director
Carlos Saura Medrano
Script Supervisor
Carmen Soriano
Pulpón Management
Camera Operators
Julio Madurga
2nd Unit:
Enrico Umetelli
2nd Unit Steadicam
Tito Karla
Set Dresser
Jesús Pérez
Rafael Palmero
Pedro Camacho
Miguel Sese
Esther Martín
Francisca Guillot
Peter Govey Film Opticals
Music Director
Isidro Muñoz
Musical Adviser
José Luis Ortiz Nuevo
"Bulerías" - La Paquera de Jerez, guitar: Moraíto Chico, Niño Jero, dancers: El Mono, Dieguito de la Margara, Sebastiana, Manuela Nuñez, singers: Barullo, Fernando de la Morena, El Torta; "Guajira" - Merche Esmeralda, dancers: Grupo de Baile de Merche Esmeralda, guitar: José Antonio Rodriguez, percussion: José Alvaro Carrasco, singer: Pepe de Lucía; "Alegrías" - Manolo Sanlucar, guitar: Juan Carlos Romero, percussion: Doctor Keli, choir: Las Peligro, singer: Diego Carrasco; "Farruca" - Joaquín Cortés, guitar: Pedro Antonio Jimenez, cellist: Fernando Anguita, violin: Juan Pablo Nunez; "Martinete" - Manuel Moneo, Agujeta; "Martinete" - Mario Maya, dancers: Grupo de
Baile de Mario Maya; "Fandangos de Huelva" - Paco Toronjo, Antonio Toscano, guitar: Juan Carlos Romero, José Antonio Rodriguez, accompanied by Grupo Cane; "Soleá" - Fernando de Utrera, guitar: Paco del Gastor; "Petenera" - José Menese, María Pagés, guitar: José Antonio Rodriguez; "Siguiriya" - Enrique Morente, guitar: José Manuel Cañizares; "Soleá" - José Mercé, Manuela Carrasco, guitar: Moraíto Chico, Joaquín Amador; "Soleá" - Farruco, Chocolate, Farruquito, accompanied by Familia Farruco, guitar: Ramon Amador; "Taranta" - Carmen Linares, guitar: Rafael Riqueni; "Tangos" - Juana La Del Revuelo, Remedios Amaya, Aurora Vargas, guitar: Quique Paredes, Martin Chico; "Villancico" - La Macanita, guitar: Juan Parrilla, Niño Jero, accompanied by Coro de la Pena Tio José de Paula; "Poema por Bulerías" - Lole y Manuel; "Tangos" - Paco de Lucia, bass: Carlos Benavent, guitar: Ramon de Algeciras, flute: Jorge Pardo, percussion: Ruben Danta, El Grilo; "Alegrías de Cádiz" - Matilde Coral, Rancapino, Chano Lobato, dancers: Escuela Flamenca de Matilde Coral, guitar: Paco Jarana; "Bulerías" - Potiro, Duquende, Belén Maya, El Grilo, Tomatito; "Rumba" - Manzanita, Ketama
Rumbas Finale Choreography
Matilde Coral
Chris Munro
Jesús Bola
Gerry Humphreys
Andrew Glen
Playback Recording
Miguel Angel Maguesin
Digital Sound Editor
Nick Lowe
La Paquera de Jerez
Merche Esmeralda
Manolo Sanlucar
Joaquín Cortés
Manuel Moneo
Mario Maya
Paco Toronjo
Antonio Toscano
Fernando de Utrera
José Menese
María Pagés
Enrique Morente
José Mercé
Manuela Carrasco
Carmen Linares
Juana La Del Revuelo
Remedios Amaya
Aurora Vargas
La Macanita
Lole y Manuel
Paco de Lucia
Matilde Coral
Chano Lobato
Belén Maya
El Grilo
Pedro Antón Jimenez
Quique Paredes
Martin Chico
Stamping, Shouting & Clapping
Agustín Monje
Agustín Romero
Antonio Carpio
Antonio Carrasco
Antonio Lara
Antonio Medina
Carmen Castillo
Dolores Nuñez
Esperanza Lara
José Vargas
Lourdes Moreno
Luis Vargas
Luisa Carrasco
Macarena Moneo
Manuel Soto
Mercedes Blanco
Mercedes Guerrero
Rafael Fernandez
Teresa Montoya
José Santiago
Juan Carlos Santiago
Martin Revuelo
Antonio Fernández
Pastora Jimenez
Pilar Montoya
Rosario Montoya
Antonio M Tejada
J. Manuel Mateos
M. Gutierrez
José Alvaro Carrasco
Doctor Keli
Enriqueta Molina
Tino Di Geraldo (Playback)
Ruben Danta
Juan Manuel Mateo
Melchior Moreno
Jarillo (Playback)
Bobote (Playback)
Carlos Ruiz
Javier Benegas
Juan Pablo Muñoz
Fernando Anguita
Grupo de Baile Mario Maya
Marco Antonio Vargas
Israel Galban
Grupo de Baile Merche Esmeralda
Aranzazu Gago
Daniela Tuques
Eva Isabel Barrios
M Belén Peña
Maria del Puerto García
M Estefania Palacio
Magdalena García
Raquel Gómez
Escuela Flamenca Matilde Coral
Alicia García
Ana M Rasero
Antonia Muñoz
Cinta Barbadilla
Adela Muñoz
Gracia E. López
M Angeles Guerra
M Luisa Díaz
M Reyes Daniel
M Reyes Romero
M Teresa Gabriel
M Victoria Herrera
Rosa M González
Susana Casas
Victoria E. Betanzos
Coro de la Pena Tio José de Paula
Juana Montoya Jimenez
Manuel Montoya Jimenez
Manuela Sánchez Blanco
Dolores Loreto Jimenez
Teresa Montoya Blanco
Mercedes Blanco
Juana Ferrer
Manuel Peña Vargas
Manuel Flores Fernandez
Manuela Reyes
Carmen Rodriguez Giraldón
Josefa Rodriguez Aparicio
Enrique M. Soto Monje
Gabriela Nunez Jimenez
Juan Fernández Sánchez
Francisca Montoya Jimenez
Luisa Silva Vázquez
Eduardo Monja Montoya
Antonia Castañeda Penal
Antonia Cánovas Medina
Manuel Fernandez Rodriguez
Carmen Pantoja Bellido
Carmen Pulido Moreno
Las Peligro
Carmen Amaya
Joaquina Amaya
Marta Amaya
Grupo Cane
Alejandro Cruzado
Ana M Huerta
Cristina Huerta
Flores Cárdenas C.
Francisco Millan
José M Ruiz
Josefa Hermosin
Manuel Millán
Manuel Pozo
Manuel Pozo G.
Maria Garrido
Marisol Toscano
Nuria del Rocio
Rafael Barba
Rafael Quintero
Rocio Castro
Familia Farruco
Antonio Fernández
Juan Fernández
Juan Manuel Fernández
Pastoria Jimenez
Pilar Montoya
Rosario Montoya
Metrodome Distribution Ltd
9,208 feet
102 minutes 19 seconds
Dolby Stero Digital SR
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011