Dance film doesn't click Review: 'Flamenco' is ultimately for the aficionados.

November 16, 1998|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

"Flamenco" opens in a large, beautiful space, a great room furnished with mirrors, panels and stark wooden chairs. It's tense with expectancy, awaiting the thing that will make its exquisite geometries come to life.

Then it comes: a crowd of people, performers of the Spanish dance and music called flamenco. They enter and fill the darkened room, taking their places in and behind a row of chairs. Behind them, a golden light grows, transforming them into silhouettes. The shadows become beacons of sound, voices and instruments, and then acquire faces as the light grows -- faces old and young, careworn and lively.

Soon, the performers dance, one by one, stepping into a pool of light to sing, move, play. It's a mesmerizing scene, full of energy and joy and the exotic sound of the music, with its Arabic, Jewish and Gypsy influences.

Yet the scene, so meticulously crafted by director Carlos Saura, also sums up what ultimately deflates this film for all but the most devoted flamenco fan. Tableau follows tableau, each striking in its use of light and shadow, but otherwise not all that different from one another.

The movie is filled not with the image of flamenco that has seeped into our popular culture -- gorgeous dancers, radiating sensuality as they retain their formal stance, clicking across a floor, intense enough to strike sparks with the heat they generate. Instead, "Flamenco" is about music as much as it's about dance, often with musicians sitting around a table, and the dance, while always lovely or engaging, isn't always scintillating.

Individually, the scenes are a marvel of concert staging. But as they accumulate for an hour and 40 minutes, they become tedious for the average filmgoer in search of, if not a plot, then at least an arc of development.

Saura, whose credits include "Carmen," has created a stunning exploration of flamenco. It's admirable and educational. But unless you're a dedicated student or aficionado, it may not be your cup of concept.

"Flamenco" opens today at the Orpheum Cinema, 1724 Thames St.


Starring Joaquin Cortes, Jose Menese, Lole y Manuel, Paco de Lucia

Directed by Carlos Saura

Released by New Yorker Films

Rated Unrated (nothing objectionable)

Running time 100 minutes

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 11/16/98

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