Blood Wedding

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 5, 2014

The dancers arrive, they warm up, they do a run-through of this very concise adaptation of Federico García Lorca’s 1932 play, and they’re done. It’s all very simple, efficient, even unvarnished—the more to bring out the fiery passion of the whole production. Fiery passion: is this just some kind of Iberian stereotype? If we go by the conviction and authority with which those stereotypes are played out in this film, then not a bit of it. It would seem that fiery passion is a main ingredient of Flamenco, as well as an actual part of actual Spain, whether we like it or not.

Director Carlos Saura is on to something exceedingly important here, and he carries it through the course of his flamenco trilogy. He’s aiming at the insufficiently explored middle ground between commercial film’s glossy craft and the weighty immediacy of the documentary. It’s simple, really: he captures actuality as beautifully as he can. He doesn’t inflate the plain actions that he is portraying, but he does treat them as if they were exquisite aesthetic objects. And sure enough, that treatment makes them so. This calls to mind Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s famous inversion, which saw him treating the sacred casually, and everyday things like they were sacred. Saura’s method is similar, and similarly electrifying: he treats the beautiful plainly, and the plain beautifully. The result is quite simple, and utterly transformative.

Blood Wedding features a long prologue to the actual performance that quite clearly demonstrates the viability, the real pleasure of Saura’s strategy. As mentioned, all these dancers, singers and musicians are doing is coming in, sitting down, making up. But here is a renewed demonstration of an old, wonderfully idealistic notion articulated by German film critic Siegfried Kracauer (Theory of Film, 1960). Kracauer said that a certain approach and attention to the framing of an image draws that image out, and lifts the image up. He called this process the redemption of physical reality. Here, in Saura’s film, plain images are absolutely redeemed from the perdition of our inattention, or disregard. In fact, his redemptive concentration leads to a kind of dramatic exaltation. Or maybe, since the performance is so stylized, and we are talking about a tale of infidelity and vengeance, some kind of operatic apotheosis.

The prologue features a wonderful bit in which choreographer/lead Antonio Gades puts on his make-up while looking right into the lens. As he does so there’s a voice over on the soundtrack in which Gades explains how he went from obscurity to access, and then on to mastery and fame. This is a great example of the British film theorist Paul Rotha’s particular take on picture/sound counterpoint in the early sound film. Sometimes the two don’t quite match, the result being that the two actually multiply.

Once made up, the company proceeds to a fabulously utilized rehearsal space, which is where they’re put through a few preparatory paces, and where they perform their piece. The parade of pirhouettes! Clapping! And more proof that there’s really nothing in the cinema quite so exciting as a simple moving camera.

Now this whole equation is somewhat complicated by the fact that these are actors/dancers, that they are obviously and always performing, that they are ridiculously talented and attractive. What seems simple is actually nothing of the kind. Just as well! In the end, we have here a performance preserved, a dance spectacle in which the camera, and even the flat bed, are successfully made a part of the choreography, and a demonstration of the complications and satisfactions of observational and interactive documentary. A whole bundle of satisfying things!