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Flamenco, Flamenco

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The extra "Flamenco" in the title is apparently there to distinguish it from Carlos Saura's previous study on the same subject. At first I was afraid that the film would be as superfluous as its title. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a great documentary (if you can call it that) that should be better known. Like Fados, it resembles a concert film, the entirety of the action taking place on a minimalist stage with decorous rear projection screens befitting of a 1930s musical. But the bold interplay of light (compliments of Vittorio Storaro), musical performance, and dance sustains a fluid cinematic space that catapults it somewhere beyond that genre. "A feast for the senses!" proclaimed the Hollywood Reporter. True enough. And perhaps something more than that. 

I was overwhelmed by the whole thing. After the lights came on, I became aware of a few other people in the theater. (I had walked in alone.) Two of them--an elderly Latina and a younger companion I assumed was her daughter--made eye contact with me. I seized the moment and exclaimed something like, "Wasn't that movie wonderful?" The older woman responded with "Oh, yes!" And then we talked for a few seconds about our favorite passages. Just then I noticed that the younger woman looked a bit bleary-eyed, as though she'd recently wiped tears from her eyes.

This all happened two years ago, and it feels as fresh as yesterday. The movie has become a new favorite: a singular, sensuous experience as well as a valuable work of cultural preservation. And the context is celebratory. What's more--and here is the ultimate point of my longwinded story--it has the proven capacity to draw people together. Cinema at its most affirmative and healing. The final tracking shot, which connects the titular dance with the technology that will enable it to reach the rest of the world, is a beautiful expression of inclusivity. 

It worries me a little how this film--and Saura's recent forays into similar territory--has been taken for granted. Between Fados and Argentina (which I've yet to see), Saura is virtually alone in his aesthetic task, which makes him something of a cinematic folk hero.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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