Dance as cultural remembrance and exorcism. The libretto is Federico García Lorca’s, Carlos Saura gives it an incantatory reading. Dressing-room mirrors are lit up one by one, the performers file in from an unseen outside world. The camera lingers on the dancers lost in action (fastening on wigs, removing snapshots from makeup kits) then tries to stare down the flamenco rooster, Antonio Gades, who smokes and applies mascara and recounts his beginnings in professional choreography ("I really began dancing out of hunger"). The bare rehearsal loft is an amphitheater, with wall-length mirror and wooden floors to bear the stomping of soles. Gades’s instructions during warm-up are banal ("So-so. The end was weak... Don’t raise your eyebrows"), the performers (and Saura’s camera) finally take off once they move into a run-through of the production. (A moment of relief: Exchanging costumes backstage, Cristina Hoyos confides her nervousness to another dancer.) García Lorca’s tale of feuding clans and doomed lovers is both a suppressed memento from the Franco regime and a totem of Andalusian macho folklore. The bride (Hoyos) leaves the groom (Juan Antonio Jiménez) for her lover (Gades), the groom’s mother (Pilar Cárdenas) hands the cuckold his knife, the pantomimed duel is shot with a languidly spiraling camera. Tigerish strides, heavy-lidded glances, rhythmic finger-snapping. Sinuous undulation is the basis of Saura’s distillation -- the betrayed wife’s (Carmen Villena) accusation during the matrimonial shivaree consists of a finger wordlessly raised in a luxuriant arch, Gades’s flexing legs and puffed-up chest are made to embody a century of masculine theatricality. The ritualized aggression from the past is danced to, but not easily shed; the film closes in the studio-arena, everybody still "in character." Cinematography by Teodoro Escamilla.
--- Fernando F. Croce