El Amor Brujo

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 5, 2014

To conclude their remarkable flamenco trilogy Saura and Gades adapt and stage Manuel de Falla’s symphonic suite and ballet, El Amor Brujo. As with the previous Carmen (q.v.), Saura starts us right off with an aggressively jaw-dropping shot. As previously he’s establishing a physical and narrative setting, but also a directorial strategy. This is a patently contrived and artificial production. But these are the artificialities that renew reality, that bring us to a recognition of things too often ignored or taken for granted. (Cf. Viktor Shklovsky, “Art is Technique,” ca. 1917.) Once again, in some ways El Amor Brujo is an Iberian Henry V (Shakespeare, as adapted by Laurence Olivier in 1944). Both films revel in their theatricality, while at the same time suggesting how powerfully theatre’s contrivance can render and illuminate reality.

In addition to this productive artificiality, El Amor Brujo revels in and benefits from a certain operatic grandeur. This is more marked even than in the previous two films of the trilogy. It’s operatic because it’s so outsized, and so convicted in its extravagance. It invites, requires our own investment, and a real suspension of disbelief. All this smouldering! It’s fantastic stuff. Also, partly, for me, it steps toward the brink of being silly. In Blood Wedding and Carmen, the way that everyone just starts dancing or clapping or ululating is pretty amazing, at least to this Celtic outsider. It feels so spontaneous, and so redolent of culture and antiquity. This Celtic outsider might not know what he’s talking about, but in this production these effusions start to look a bit mannered, even a bit not very good.

This is more noticeable because this third film’s source is pretty thin, dramatically speaking. Or maybe it’s just pretty small—de Falla’s suite is only a twenty-three minutes long, after all. And yet, partly because of the associations that follow hard upon our encounters with the familiar, and also, perhaps, because of power inherent in the still-resonant source, El Amor Brujo is still so very stirring.

At this point the cross-casting between these three films really starts to yield real benefits. By now Gades (who get increasingly and more interestingly older before our eyes), Cristina Hoyes (it seems indelicate to say so, but camera and composition combine to make this film partly or substantially about her breasts!), the surpassingly sluttish Laura del Sol, and, in a stunningly dissolute turn (as in the previous Carmen), Juan Antonio Jimenez are starting to register both as old friends and out and out archetypes.