This Spanish flamenco troupe are arriving for the day's rehearsal, which is quite important because it is the dress rehearsal before the big premiere so they are keen to get everything right. As the performers file in, they set up at their dressing tables to put on their makeup and arrange their mascots, photographs and lucky charms while the musicians begin to tune their guitars and warm up their voices. The ballet is a version of Federico García Lorca's Bodas de sangre, known in English as Blood Wedding, a tale of a woman torn between her two lovers on the day she is married, which ends in tragedy...
This was the first of director Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy of the nineteen-eighties, all of which starred Antonio Gades, and very well received across the world, not only among fans of those who would rather watch their dance movies in the theatre rather than the cinema. It was a strange way to approach the play, however, as instead of the characters being foregrounded so the audience were lost in the plot through the medium of dance we were constantly reminded that we were watching a group of performers and not actual people caught up in the emotions of their relationships. Well, they were to an extent, but the theatricality of the experience was emphasised above the fiction of the text.
So if you were one to enjoy seeing how the magician performed his tricks, then Saura's Blood Wedding was likely to find favour, though if it was the performance which made you fall in love with watching such athletic physical prowess set to music then you may not have been so enamoured of the director being so determined to pull back the curtain and let us see the workings. To put it another way, if you can't watch a television programme about cars without wanting to examine what was going on in the engine then this was the kind of musical production for you, and you can understand why some viewers would have rather Saura had cut to the chase and shown us the full performance at the premiere, with an audience in the auditorium, as if this were a concert movie more than a drama-documentary.
Though you could argue he would have had to pad out what was already a short piece in other ways, and at times it seemed as if we were privy to all the backstage business simply because the dress rehearsal took up barely half an hour of screen time. Even so, you never feel like you're getting to know individual dancers as we follow the minutiae of their work, as they tend to settle into three groups: female dancers, male dancers and musicians. So as we watch them limber up under the tutelage of their instructor, or put on their costumes, or whatever has been included to draw this out, there's the sense that what you're actually here for - the Lorca adaptation - is being withheld almost playfully until we're sure we really want to see it. Once it finally begins, Saura used a surprising amount of closeups on faces and feet when you would have thought seeing the whole body in movement would have been ideal to put the drama across, but it's suitably passionate (quite a bit of breast-grabbing) without anyone truly distinguishing themselves above the other players. Interesting then, but unlikely to win any converts. Music by Emile de Diego.