Even if you're no great follower of dance or film, "Blood Wedding"--which weaves the two into a near-seamless marvel--has something for you: a powerful yarn, ingeniously told.
Director Carlos Saura, Spain's answer to Kurosawa, assumes a double risk in filming Antonio Gades' flamenco ballet (which Gades and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba brought to the Kennedy Center in 1978) -- itself an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's 1933 play, "Bodas de Sangre." But if it's a perilous journey from drama to dance to screen, the director makes the required leaps with what seems the greatest of ease.
Garcia Lorca's story, a rural melodrama of passion and jealousy, involves a wedding gone awry: at the climactic moment, the bride flees the party with her lover; the bridegroom, spurred on by his mother and the lover's jilted wife, goes after them; and the rivals fight to the death in a show of Spanish honor.
One of Spain's flamenco masters, Gades has distilled this already simple tale into an elegant folk ballet. To the pulse of Spanish guitars -- and occasionally acappella -- the dancers do with their bodies what a poet like Garcia Lorca might do with words. The spare yet fiery flamenco helped Gades pare the play to purest emotions, especially in a knife fight that the original left unstaged.
The film runs just over an hour and sets the work as a dress rehearsal in a mirrored, bare-walled studio. At first, it has the look of a dance documentary, or a backstage-ballet movie like "The Turning Point," with dancers straggling into a communal dressing room, joking and gossiping, stretching their limbs as musicians practice, and then heading out for a warmup.
Before long, though, with Gades presiding -- "Don't raise your eyebrows," he chides a dancer during warmup -- the free and easy mood begins to tighten. When the dancers return to their dressing tables to don makeup and costumes -- Gades, dancing the lover's role, and Juan Antonio Jimenez, dancing the bridegroom's, choose from a prop tray of nasty-looking knives -- they evoke a nervous wedding party, but there's also a sense of forboding. "I'm not going to stop it," Gades announces to his jittery troupe. "It's all the way, no matter what."
The rest is filmed ballet, with Saura using his camera to boost tension -- with shots of sweat-drenched faces and stomping feet -- or else to shift attention, as with the wedding dance, when the camera briefly leaves the celebrants for a plump crooner with microphone: a bit of local color in a tacky pinstripe suit. For the knife fight, conceived by Gades as a saraband, the camera slowly whirls around the combatants, almost drawing the viewer into the fray. Still supple and sharp at 45, Gades is an engaging star, with the whole company making "Blood Wedding" a film that ends too soon.
Also on the bill at the Dupont Circle, where "Blood Wedding" opens Friday, is a short film called "Balances," featuring members of the San Francisco ballet and a gem in its own right.
BLOOD WEDDING -- At the Dupont Circle; in Spanish with subtitles