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Sauras's Iberia aesthetic extasy, the Master strikes again

Valladolid Festival, October 27

One might say that there are three kinds of musicals; (1) Hollywood MGM type musicals with a flimsy plot as an excuse for stringing together a bunch of hit songs and "production number", (2) filmed Broadway shows such as "Showboat" or "Westside Story", and (3) CARLOS SAURA MUSICALS, or, Serious Dance and Music as Pure Cinema. His latest such work, "IBERIA", a suite of flamenco and balletic dances, vocalizations (Canto Hondo), and instrumental recitals (piano, small combos, guitar, saxophones), situated in astoundingly beautiful abstract sets, the whole inspired by turn-of-the century Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz's "Iberia Suite," is a motion picture which calls for a new categorization -- "Aesthetic Ecstasy" -- and is a multi-sensual experience you wish would never end so you could die watching it.

In the "Iberia suites", Albeniz (1860-1909) painted a musical canvas of Spain, i.e., the Iberian Peninsula, region by region, producing his idea of the distinctive flavour of each in separate sections, Cordoba, Asturias, Valencia, Castilla, Sevilla, etc. culminating in the familiar international standard of the classical guitar repertoire “Sevillanas”. Saura’s “Iberia” is not a literal rendition of the original compositions but rather a homage to the composer adapting his music in various ways, much of it but not all, in the flamenco idiom. At the beginning of the film we are told that this is to be in a free adaptation of Albeniz’s music, but, at every moment cognizant of the debt of the film to the composer and faithful to his musical ideas. Throughout the film images of the composer and scenes from his life appear in the background but are fully integrated into the ongoing visual development.
What makes a Saura musical unique is the way in which he blends instrumental and vocal music, straight flamenco and modern dance, drama, lighting, sets and camera presentation into a form of “gesamt kunst” which is purely cinematic and at the same time, purely musical. If it is possible to improve on his 1983 “Carmen”, which was straight flamenco from beginning to end (and is not improvable), this “Ibéria shows, if not a better, a somewhat different Saura, incorporating multimedia concepts and a more contemporary view of dance and music into his work.
In “Iberia”, dancers and musicians, dances and instrumental music, are all on an equal footing, as the camera spotlights various aspects of musical interpretation, not only the technical issues involved, but also the emotional experience of playing itself. There is one section where a solo performer, a singer who is obviously in deep contact with the magical “duende” (soul) of Flamenco, wrings tears out of the screen without actually shedding any himself. Some of the dance numbers are extremely erotic, others (like the Basque sequence) are filmed folklore. There is hardly a moment which is not emotionally compelling as well as aesthetically mind-blowing, and Saura himself is credited with the design of the dazzlingly beautiful sets. This is a man who knows what he is about and what he wants from his medium, and his new “Iberia” is not only the most aesthetically exciting film of the year but is a cinematic experience that is so far up in the clouds that it looks down on the rest of the pack.
Amaze-ing-ly, this film has not been submitted as the Spanish entry to the Oscars in March – but rather the bland, chanceless picture “Obaba”, which is travelling well on the festival circuit but will have the chance of the proverbial snowball in Hell come springtime in Hollywood. Makes one wonder who makes the choices …
by Alex Deleon,


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