Of course, listening to flamenco is bliss. But also it’s fun to watch on the screen. There’s a long tradition of flamenco within Spanish cinema, and flamenco films are a fantastic way to get a glimpse of the art.
First, a little history. Spanish folk cinema dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. These innocent and black and white films, which often included flamenco-esque elements of singing and dancing, became popular in the 1930s and over the following decades developed into a significant film industry in Andalusia. The movies featured great artists like Carmen Amaya and Antonio Mairena. After the Spanish civil war (1936-1939) the dictator Francisco Franco saw in these folk films a way to create a unified (and very stereotypical) vision of Spain, and although folk cinema continued to be made, it progressively became formulaic and rigid. The end of the dictatorship and the arrival of democracy in 1978 brought a breath of fresh air to the Spanish film industry. Flamenco movies also loosened up, becoming more varied and more creatively daring. Carlos Saura is perhaps the most famous flamenco film director of the modern Spanish era. Over the past 30 years, he’s made numerous flamenco documentaries and films, several of which have enjoyed international acclaim.
So, let’s go to the movies! If you’re in Spain, or planning your visit, and want to get in the mood for flamenco, these are the best flamenco films to kick off with:
Triana Pura y Pura (2013): This documentary by Ricardo Pachón tells the story of the gypsy people from Triana, a Seville neighbourhood on the far side of the Guadalquivir river. In the 1950s Franco kicked them out of their traditional barrio of Triana and they became scattered around the outskirts of Seville. In 1983 they reunited to do what they loved to do most in Triana: rejoice together in flamenco. And we, as spectators, get the opportunity to witness the fun they had on that night.
Flamenco (1995): In this Carlos Saura documentary there is no plot — just straight up flamenco. The sequence of songs and dances performed by some of the biggest flamenco artists of our time gives you an idea of just how rich an art form flamenco is. Music is enhanced by the beautiful photography by famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. You’ll see in here solo singers and dancers, father and son combos, Christmas carols and aging performers that prove that flamenco is not about youth, but about attitude.
Los Tarantos (1963): Romeo and Juliette à la flamenco. Rovira Beleta directed this musical that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Set and shot in Barcelona, it portrays life in the gypsy neighborhoods in the outskirts of the city. It contains some memorable moments, like bailaor Antonio Gades dancing along (the now tourist-soaked) La Rambla street…
… or Carmen Amaya, one of the greatest female flamenco dancers of all times, performing a fantastic solo act in which she dances, sings, claps and marks the beat with her knuckles on the table — a well-rounded person indeed!