★ ★ ★ – Good
Martin put filmmaker Carlos Saura on my radar and it's been a long-standing want that I would Marathon his work someday. (One of the biggest reasons for my current Directors Marathon, though sadly Saura is in the 400s.) The dancing here is at a level of precision so high, I can't really tell the great dancing from the superb dancing. When fresh-faced Laura del Sol is cast in the lead role and there's some friction with the experienced dance teacher, the on-screen director tells the teacher, "You're the best dancer, but you're not Carmen." I can't tell much difference between the two, but that's okay. I appreciate that the dancing isn't dumbed down so that it's obvious that del Sol is being unemotional with her movement.
The dancing is all great, but there are three standout sequences. The “tobacco factory” is the musical highlight because of the percussive beats which raise the pulse up to the sudden climax. There's a footwork rehearsal that demonstrates Saura's camera technique, filmed mostly with just the legs all hitting the floorboards in perfect union. (As amazing a shot as a well-executed Jackie Chan stunt.) My other favorite is a fight between two men that uses shadows and distances from the camera so that it isn't just about the movement, but the drama of seeing who dominates the frame as they move about each other.
And if that's not enough, there's the behind-the-scenes drama, which blends the story of Carmen into the lives of the people performing. This isn't done in an obvious or 4th wall breaking way, but my one complaint about the film may be that I liked watching how Saura poured the two narratives - the musical Carmen and the real life events - into one bottle than the drama itself, which is as old as Greek Tragedy. Of course, we're talking about a story that's over 100 years old, but the predictability of the beats was only undercut by the way Saura fused things together.