Saturday, July 14, 2012

Carlos Saura's Carmen

The second DVD in Criterion Collection’s Eclipse Series 6, entitled Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy, is Carmen: Inspirada en la novela de Mérimée y la opera de Bizet (Carmen: Based on the Novel by [Prosper] Mérimée and the Opera by [Georges] Bizet).  Distributed by Janus Films in 1983, and by Criterion and studiocanal on DVD in 2007, the film exhibits the screenplay and choreography of Carlos Saura and Antonio Gades.  Saura returns as the director and Emiliano Piedra as the producer.  We see familiar faces appear as well as new ones: Laura del Sol plays the self-assertive Carmen; Paco de Lucía—the world-famous flamenco guitarist—plays Paco, the musical coordinator; Pepa Flores contributes her vocal talents; Cristina Hoyos, as Cristina, coaches other dancers in preparation for an upcoming adaptation of Carmen in the flamenco style; Juan Antonio Jiménez plays Juan; José Yepes as Pepe Girón; Sebastián Moreno as the rival, Escamillo; and Antonio Gades as Antonio, the director and ill-fated lover of the play.  To complete the cast of flamenco players, we have two cantaores and three guitarristas, Gómez de Jerez, Manolo Sevilla, Antonio Solera, Manuel Rodríguez, and Lorenzo Virseda, respectively.

The opening sequence shows Antonio rehearsing flamenco steps with several women in a studio.  Each dancer performs perfectly in unison for the director, but he cannot quite put his finger on something.  He has a few dancers perform solos until he hands off the drilling practice to Cristina.  He joins Paco’s group and asks his friend for a favor.  Paco asks Antonio what he can do for him when he goes to Seville.  Antonio requests Paco to keep his eyes open for someone that can play the leading role in their adaptation of Carmen.  “Don’t you like any of these?” Paco inquires.  Antonio replies, “Some of them aren’t bad … but I just don’t see them as Carmen.”  From there, we immediately see the opening credits and a musical excerpt from the operatic version of Carmen.  Thus marks the drive for the movie.

As the movie continues, Antonio finds a young woman that practices flamenco during classes and dances at a tourist trap in the evenings.  (Her name happens to be Carmen.)  Although just an amateur, she attracts Antonio, and he offers her an audition.  She has a rough audition, but Antonio decides to star her as the popular heroine.  Cristina, the best flamenco dancer Antonio has, feels put-upon by Antonio’s caprice and by Carmen’s ineptitude.  He understands that Cristina is the best dancer he has got, but she is too old to play the part in the production.  He needs someone younger, even if it means Cristina has to help her overcome a learning curve.  Antonio pleads with Cristina to work with Carmen, Cristina swallows her pride as she goes to teach her, and Carmen struggles to become the ideal Carmen for Antonio.

As the movie progresses, we see how Antonio’s situation parallels the one experienced by Don José in the novella and opera.  As Carmen dances better, passions between Carmen and Antonio heat up.  Antonio basks in his muse’s light, but problems surface as the rehearsals continue.  Eventually, jealousy takes over the relationship to the point that tragedy ensues, thus the reality of the film mirrors the fiction of the book and opera … or does it?

Saura incorporates the intertextuality of the novella, the opera, and the adaptation seamlessly.  He continues to use lighting, mirrors, and sets naturally, creating a story that is familiar, yet original.  He again uses paralipsis to give the movie audience a privileged point of view, for Saura never tells the audience if Antonio’s production makes it to the stage.  The audience is left to figure out whether Antonio decides to end rehearsals abruptly because of a quarrel or they are just duped into thinking Antonio takes it out on Carmen, being that their fight is just part of the rehearsal.

The dance and musical numbers are the main attraction.  Paco de Lucía and Pepa Flores perform a fantastic number called “No llores más” (“Don’t Cry Anymore”).  Paco de Lucía, upon hearing the seguidilla “Près des ramparts de Séville,” transforms the operatic number into a bulería in no time at all.  An intense dance-off happens between female teams in the cigar factory scene.  Flamenco carries on the celebration for Toñito’s birthday, which turns into an impromptu bull fight among the cast and crew.  A couple of duels rounds out the performances, and a drill leaves onlookers catching their breaths.  It is a hand-clapping good time!

Parents must take notice though: There are a couple of scenes that depicts nudity in intimate and compromising situations.  The act is implied, but American audiences would rate this movie a strong R.  Excluding the scenes, the movie would be a PG.  For those that do want to watch it, they should know that the movie is in Spanish with English subtitles.