Director Carlos Saura’s Carmen develops a fictional story revolving around the rehearsals of Georges Bizet’s opera about the brash and colorful cigarette factory woman and her dalliance with the soldier Don José, and eventual love for Escamillo, the bullfighter. Saura introduces exciting flamenco dance scenes and a love story between Antonio (Antonio Gades), the choreographer of the opera, and the actress playing Carmen, Laura del Sol. Joan Sutherland and Paco de Lucía also perform segments from Bizet’s 1875 opera. The mix of magical choreography, rousing flamenco dances, and operatic insertions as well as the tongue-in-cheek parodies of the French opera and foreign stereotypes of Spaniards keeps most viewers well entertained throughout. Saura’s Carmen won an award for “Artistic Contribution” and for “Technical Achievement” at the Cannes Film Festival in 1983, another award for “Technical Achievement” at the 1983 Venice Film Festival, and the “Best Foreign Language Film” award at the 1984 British Academy Awards. It was the second in a trilogy of films choreographed in a similar style by Antonio Gades. Continue reading
José, Paco and Luis are three friends and war veterans who one day decide to go hunting in the company of Enrique, a 20-year-old on his first outing. They will practice their favorite sport on Paco’s land, where not too long ago an important Civil War battle took place. An edgy thriller as well as a heavily symbolic study of hatred and rivalry, the hunt becomes an allegory of war.
In ELISA, VIDA MIA, Fernando Rey stars as Luis, a contemplative writer, now in his sixties, who years ago moved to an isolated cottage in rural Spain to escape everything he hates about modern life. He is visited by his daughter, Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin), who he had abandoned years ago when he decided to leave her mother and become a writer. As the film opens Luis is reading from a memoir he is writing, but the story he’s telling is written from the point of view of Elisa. Director Carlos Saura uses the full range of narrative possibilities in this film, including internal monologues, dreams, fantasies, wish fulfillment, and multiple view points. Sometimes Saura switches the narrative from Elisa’s point of view to her father’s internal imagining of what she’s telling him. When she tells her father the story of her husband having an affair with her best friend, Sophia, it ends in a wildly unbelievable fashion. Is this story a wish fulfillment of hers? Or was the fantasy in the mind of her father as he writes the story of her visit? The film presents a stream of consciousness narrative that allows the characters to take shape not just through their words and actions, but actually through the progression of their thoughts. Continue reading
This is a curious and little-known film from Saura’s best period. Co-scripted by Rafael Azcona, the film is virtually a two-hander about a husband and wife (Per Oscarsson and Geraldine Chaplin) discovering role playing to supplement their apparently repressed sex life and going a little bit too far. There is a shade of Virginia Woolf here, and more than a shade of the later Buñuel (who learned most of his tricks from Azcona, anyway). However, what Buñuel does with a sledge-hammer and schoolboy glee, Saura does with subtlety and bitter irony. Continue reading
While attending an international conference which seeks to reduce the incidence of the use of torture by nations around the globe, a movie director (Jose Luis Gomez) encounters a woman (Geraldine Chaplin) whom he decides to cast in a play about state torture. As events proceed, he and the woman, the wife of a dentist, become lovers. All along, however, right-wing types have been persecuting, and the whole endeavor goes sour. Continue reading
Saura’s account of Spain’s quest for Peruvian gold differs from Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God in intention and budget. Loopy Lope de Aguirre and his conquistadors sail themselves up a creek without gold or paddle, decimated by unseen assailants, hostile environs, exhausted provisions, and mad, merciless self-slaughter. Aguirre (the excellent Antonutti) is a tired 50-year-old way down the military pecking order; if voice-overs suggest he sees himself as God’s instrument, Saura portrays his murderous deeds asa product of the clashing forces of Spanish society. His attempt to demythologise this folie de grandeur within the conventions of the big budget epic (at $9 million, Spain’s most expensive film to date) excels in evoking the destructive effects of sexual jealousy, envy, greed and the Spanish obsession with death. But despite lush ‘Scope photography and the meticulous display of authentic armour and finery, the film is often oppressive, and too dependent on faces to communicate meaning, adding obscurity to something already complex and ambiguous. Not Saura’s best, perhaps, but a fascinating attempt to get to the heart of myths, men and history. Continue reading