Blood Wedding (1981)
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"Bodas de Sangre" is an original movie, where a play is danced in a room. I personally like this folkloric Spanish gypsy style of music and dancing, therefore I liked this film. However, I agree that for those viewers not used to this type of dancing and music, this art movie probably is boring. The group of dancers is excellent, and gives a wonderful choreography and interpretation. This film is the beginning of Carlos Saura's dance trilogy, completed with "Carmen" (1983) and "El Amor Brujo" (1986). My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Bodas de Sangue" ("Blood Wedding Feast")
The story line is simple. A bride elopes with her lover in the very day of her wedding. The groom follows the two lovers, and a knife fight takes place. The rivals stab each other and the only wedding that takes place is that one knotting their destinies together in death. A blood wedding.
Besides from the unearthly beauty of the dance spilling out of the dancers bodies on the Flamenco rhythm, the film goes a long way toward shaping and determining the kind of thoughts one is able to have on the controversial topic of sinful love.
Then, we are transported to the past, on the day of the fateful wedding that would change forever the lives of three people, the Bride (Cristina Hoyes), her Lover Leonardo ( Antonio Gades ), and the Groom (Juan Antonio Jimenez) and these close to them, forever. The powerful, intense, passionate yet restrained, the ballet choreographed by Antonio Gades is excellent. The tragic story of two ill-fated lovers first told by Lorca and then re-told in the language of uniquely Spanish art of flamenco that combines Guitar music, dance, and singing. The dancers express the deepest emotions and burning desires in perfectly fluid neat movements that are captured by the camera of film director, Carlos Saura.
The unforgettable film seems very simple on the surface because it never leaves the rehearsal studio. There are no elaborate set decorations or stunning visuals. The costumes are simple and the color black dominates with the one exception only, the white color for the Bride's wedding gown, her shoes and stockings. The strength of Saura's vision is in following the performers closely and making the viewer a participant of the tragic story that happens in front of us. The final scene of the film is quite extraordinary considering that there were no special effects used during the filming. The duel on the knives between the groom and the lover takes place for as long as 6 minutes in slow motion in silence. Maybe it was so slow because both men knew that in the end of it there will be death and the time stopped for them. How the performers could maintain the perfect movements, bending in the impossible angles and expressing the powerful emotions in that almost impossible to imagine slow tempo -is a great secret and a stunning achievement of the performers, the choreographer who staged the scene, and the director who had captured them.
Like TANGO, Saura foregrounds a self-reflexivity on the film. This time, however, it is used relatively intelligently. There is a pretence of documentary as we watch 'famed' choreographer Antonio Gades prepare for his flamenco adaptation of Lorca's Blood Wedding. We see the preparations of the dancers, the (tedious) warm ups, the donning of costumes.
None of this is gratuitous (although the lingering on the undressing female dancers might be), and is infinitely preferable to the fictional ponderings of TANGO. The opening credits roll over a sepia photograph of the cast, mimicking the period in which the play was set. Lorca was, of course, a famous leftist, murdered by Fascists in the Civil War, and this is a film, made only a few years after Franco's death, that attempts to come to terms with Spanish history. The lengthy process of rehearsal emphasises the process of becoming, suggesting that history is not the monolithic entity the Right would like it to be, but a fluid interpretive searching, grasping, for the truth. The repeated gazing into mirrors links this national quest with an examination of the self. And yet Old Spain is not so quickly vanquished - one dancer hangs religious pictures on her mirror.
So, the dance is made to carry a lot of baggage. We are not given the actual performance, but a dress rehearsal, continuing the idea of becoming, as if to offer a fixed definitive version would be to concede to the enemy. This austere restriction to one bare space, without sets, without any help from Saura, means that the dancing has to be spectacular for the film to succeed. It is not, being rather conservative, and blindingly obvious and literal, the dance equivalent of dialogue sung in a Lloyd-Webber musical. Every gesture is laboriously spelt out; the viewer is credited with no intelligence.
It is totally inadequate to the play's politics, and the pared down approach means we lose its febrile, exhilirating excess. The critique of machismo and the death wish, applied to Spanish culture as a whole, is still there, but the climactic stand-off, while comparitively inventive, is more silly than cathartic, like Cavalliera Rusticana with the sound down. It is odd that a film so critical of the macho ethic should be so...macho.
As with TANGO, any effect the film has lies in the music, which, especially in the mariachi wedding sequence, provides the drama and beauty absent from the filming itself.
Here, I like the idea of centering the dance in the ordinary life that gives rise to it, so in the same flow we can pick up both improvised life and meticulous abstraction. We get the gathering of the troupe and preparations, the putting on of make-up and dressing-room small talk, the practice and rehearsal with its mistakes, and then a full dress rehearsal of the play instead of a big show.
My gripe is that so much more could've been made on the weaving of realities. We have a 'real' first half, but we're not immersed long enough to form connections. The feel like we are eavesdropping could be carried in the actual danced narrative, which is about secrets and watching. The energy and choreographed spillovers in the camera could be more rigorous, the flamenco more passionate. Imagine a mistake in the flow like in the first rehearsal, but they dance through it: how do we accommodate damage, chance, spontaneity?
As it is, there's too much theatric symmetry for me to like—not enough that is broken or alive. But at least the last scene is pretty amazing.
It's a knife fight between men for the eyes of the woman danced in slow-motion—the mirrored poise and grappling of pride mistaken as love, the arrested flow playing to the desired spectacle of manhood both by us and in the play, the ballet of camera singling again and again the knife, the woman's muted mimicked and impotent horror of watching. It's a lovely scene that I'll keep with me, a sort of visual carving in emotional time.