“Blood Wedding” – A.J. Hakari

My experience with dance on film has been troubling, to say the least. Outside of musicals, most dance-oriented movies I’ve seen have involved twentysomething actors launching themselves into hip hop-induced seizures. Needless to say, Step Up and Stomp the Yard haven’t given this world the respectable image it deserves, but fortunately, Blood Wedding rectifies this injustice. While it’s by all means an “artsy” film, even those not as creatively-inclined as others can appreciate Blood Wedding for capturing the art of this craft in a much more compelling fashion than it could’ve been.

In decidedly minimalist fashion, director Carlos Saura captures the hard work and effort a dance company puts into rehearsing for an upcoming performance. The piece in question is Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Blood Wedding,” a drama about a torrid affair between a bride-to-be and her married lover. Led by choreographer Antonio Gades, the performers arrive at the theater, don their make-up and costumes, and proceed to warm themselves up with a few routines. Afterwards, the intense rehearsal begins, with Gades taking on the role of philandering Leonardo and Cristina Hoyos as the not-so-innocent bride. Though no dialogue is exchanged during the performance, Gades and company make sure that their moves convey Lorca’s tale of betrayal with plenty of passion and fiery emotion.

Some movies can’t be seen as movies but more as cinematic challenges. They have to be viewed as personal tests on behalf of the filmmakers to see if they can pull off a particular idea. The object of Blood Wedding is to buck the traditional narrative structure and immerse viewers in as purely artistic an experience as possible. To begin with, not only are the characters refused names, you’re not even sure the film is a work of fiction to begin with. Saura blurs the line between where reality ends and the performance begins, forcing you to focus less on the performers and more on how well they exhibit the themes of the piece at hand. Usually, this would be an infuriating concept, but in this case, it’s actually sort of liberating. There’s no trivial background information, no responsibility to keep track of a story or cast of characters you might just as well not end up giving two flips about. With Blood Wedding, Saura sees to it that little stands between the audience and the pleasure of witnessing art unfold in vibrant motion.

Of course, one person’s cultural achievement is another’s equivalent of pulling teeth. It goes without saying that Blood Wedding isn’t for everyone, that its dearth of dialogue and arcane structure will earn as many detractors as it will admirers. But as long as it’s viewed with the right mindset, the film comes across with plenty of artistic merit. Just as in going to see a stage play, one’s enjoyment of Blood Wedding does boil down to the quality of the central performance, which, in this case, even Joe Sixpack can’t deny is executed beautifully. Though I couldn’t tell you how faithful Gades and his dancers remain to Lorca’s original play, the troupe puts on an absorbing show regardless. That the performers affectively communicates not just Lorca’s story but the intense feelings brewing within it with very few ingredients (aside from a couple songs, the show’s done all through dance) is a true testament to their undeniable skills.

I can’t deny that there were times that, as a casual moviegoer, I had to stifle a yawn and wish that Blood Wedding had embraced a less esoteric configuration. But these cries were quickly drowned out by the praise heaped upon the film by my inner cine-snob, the one that’s grateful filmmakers like Saura have the guts to defy convention and bring a lovely piece of work like Blood Wedding into the world.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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