Saturday, March 24, 2012

Carlos Saura's Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding)

In 1981, Carlos Saura directs and releases his movie Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding) based on Federico García Lorca’s play of the same name.  He works with Antonio Artero, Antonio Gades, and Alfredo Mañas to write a screenplay adapting Lorca’s story into a ballet.  Gades choreographs the flamenco rehearsals and participates with his troupe during the filming.  The performers in this film include Antonio Gades as Leonardo, Juan Antonio Jiménez as the Groom, Carmen Villena as the Wife, Pilar Cárdenas as the Mother, and Cristina Hoyos as the Bride.  Emiliano Piedra carries out his function as producer.  Janus Films, studiocanal, and UGC D.A. International distribute the film at various times.  Bodas de sangre is the first DVD in a volume entitled Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy, released by The Criterion Collection in 2007.  The Criterion Collection places Saura’s trilogy in the Eclipse Series as volume 6.  On my sister’s book blog, I have written a review about the play itself, which you can peruse by clicking here.

The main spectacle of the movie follows the theatrical version as far as the plot is concerned.  Dancers tell the story through the use of body movements, gestures, music, and pantomime.  The attraction of the movie comes in the ubiquitous flamenco.  The players expertly execute movements that imbue the atmosphere with grace and spirit, or duende as the flamenco artists call it.  The dancers tap their heels, the guitarists strum their melismatic-sounding strings, and the palmas mark out the compás in vigorous tempos.  The sensuous, heartrending motions of the hands and bodies evoke tears within abysses of melancholy, while at other times they fan out into exultations of bliss.  The strings of the guitars never flag; they are amazingly limber and versatile.  Flamenco adds a heaping portion of sophistication and mien to an otherwise cut-and-dried drama.

Actually, the show does not begin the storyline until thirty minutes into the movie.  During the first half hour, we see the cast and crew preparing for a full dress rehearsal.  A crew member prepares the dressing room and turns on the lights of the theater makeup mirrors before the cast arrives.  When they arrive, they mingle for a little bit before preparing their stations in a leisurely manner.  We see actors ritually set up their makeup boxes, pictures, and trinkets.  After a few shots of actors applying makeup and Gypsies warming up their voices, Antonio Gades applies eyeliner and we hear his inner monologue relate the beginnings of his career.

After some time for putting on makeup and pensively smoking, Gades strolls into the dance hall to warm up until the rest of cast joins in.  Gades instructs the cast members and critiques their performances until he peps them up for a full dress rehearsal.  They break to get dressed in their costumes and then return to the dance hall so we, the movie patrons, like flies on a wall, can see their finished performance.  They begin the rehearsal, the mood changes, and the rehearsal goes through without a hitch.  The credits then immediately roll.

Like other Saura movies, Bodas de sangre depicts scenes of dancers and performers rehearsing their numbers.  In these scenes, the participants converse as though they are privately practicing.  Yet here we are, watching them through a cinematic medium.  This paralipsis produces a sensation that the patron occupies a privileged space.  In other words, the performers are speaking as though they have yet to record or perform their routines for the public.  They may likely go through with the plan, but there is a possibility that they may decide not to perform this work at all.  Under this circumstance, a moviegoer may think, “Well, did you release the film or not?”  The work does not say, but obviously the film is out for all to see.  It is like the artist saying to the moviegoer, “This is a story we decided not to release, but we are going to let you see anyway.”  Hence, the patron effectively has a privileged opportunity to see a performance, even though the whole world can come to watch the movie.  Saura is a master in the art of paralipsis.

If the idea of paralipsis still sounds perplexing, ask yourself this question: Is the performance I am seeing an example of a choreographed rehearsal or is it a rehearsed choreography?  If it is the former, then it is a performance and not a rehearsal in the true sense.  During the rehearsal scenes, the performers act as if they are in a rehearsal.  They fumble, make mistakes, and react to criticism on purpose.  If it is the latter, then it is truly a rehearsal.  The performers, almost tediously, practice routines until they get them right.  Their rehearsals are not meant for the public to see.  The director intends the audience to see the movie as though this were just one of many rehearsals before the troupe performs on some opening night.  The illusion works great, except for one part where the audience sees a microphone on a boom pole slip into the frame.

The characters that appear in the play, but not in the movie, are the Moon, Death, the Father, the Girl, and the Woodcutters (although one could argue the Moon and Death perform flamenco vigorously off camera while Leonardo and the Groom slowly collapse to the ground during their deaths).  The economy of the film strictly prohibits but a few characters to carry the majority of the story.  The surrealistic elements inextricable in the play must make an absence in the film.  The bare minimum takes front stage.

My favorite performer throughout the whole film is Carmen Villena.  She beautifully dances her heart out and acts out her character with sympathy.  Playing as the Wife, she tries everything to gain back her husband, Leonardo, and cautiously suspects the Bride as the accomplice in the affair.  Through dance, she demonstrates the announcement of the lovers’ furtive escape on horse slowly, cleverly, and gorgeously. 

All in all, this is an enjoyable movie to watch.  Some sequences may not be suitable for very young children, although I would feel comfortable showing my older nephews and nieces.  Those who show an affinity for theater, dance, song, or music will enjoy Bodas de sangre.