"Blood Wedding," the searing and audacious film that opens today at the Dupont Circle, is profoundly imprinted with the artistic signatures of three men--Federico Garcia Lorca, the great tragic poet-playwright martyred in the Spanish Civil War at the age of 38, and author of the drama which gives the film its title; Antonio Gades, Flamenco dancer and choreographer, creator and protagonist of a dance version of the play; and Carlos Saura, the noted Spanish filmmaker who has superbly translated Gades' choreography onto the movie screen.
This is not a straightforward cinematic record of stage choreography; it is a film, and Saura's directorial hand is the ruling one, imposing a visual style and choosing at every moment the angle, vantage point and rhythm through which we perceive the danced drama. At the same time, the film owes its content, its atmosphere and its intensity of effect to Lorca and Gades--it might be most accurate to describe it as a cinechoreographic collaboration.
The film begins with the crass realities of backstage--the dressing room, the dancers' mundane preparations of makeup, costuming and small talk. Then it moves into a large studio, as the dancers take a warmup class with Gades at their head, and the tension mounts palpably. Finally there is, not a performance, but a dress rehearsal, framed by the long studio wall and its three floor-length windows admitting a wan, diffused daylight that somehow accents the somberness of the drama.
Up to this point there has been a minimum of verbiage, and with the start of the rehearsal, there's none at all, except for song texts--camera movement and body movement become the sole vessels of the narrative. The story is elemental--at a wedding ceremony, a bride flees an arranged marriage in the arms of her clandestine lover. The groom, spurred by the wrathful anguish of his mother and the lover's abandoned wife, gives chase, engages the lover in a knife duel, and both are slain. Gades relates all this in six terse choreographic scenes, highly stylized except for the quasi-realistic wedding festivity. The camera, mingling with the characters and singling out eyes, mouths, arms and feet, makes the viewer a party to the action and a proximate witness to its most subtle effects.
Gades' "Blood Wedding" was seen at the Kennedy Center in 1978 as performed by Alicia Alonso's Ballet Nacional de Cuba, though Gades, who was appearing as a guest artist with the company at the time, did not dance in it. He does dance in the film, which is one reason the movie seems even more powerfully expressive than the splendid stage version. He's got the magnetism and virtuosity of a Nureyev or Baryshnikov, together with a beautifully melancholic eroticism entirely his own.
The other reasons have to do with Saura's film magic, the ways in which he uses the medium--its ability to magnify and probe, its kinship with the dreamworld--to involve us more intimately with the characters of the drama. As a partnership of film, drama and dance, "Blood Wedding" has very few peers