Film Reviews

TIFF Review: ‘J: Beyond Flamenco’

Carlos Saura can really shake a leg at age 84.

Courtesy of TIFF

J: Beyond Flamenco (Jota)
(Spain, 90 min.)
Dir. Carlos Saura
Programme: Masters (World Premiere)

Carlos Saura can really shake a leg at age 84. The octogenarian master returns with the sexy dance doc J: Beyond Flamenco. The film spotlights jota dancing, a jumpy-like waltz that shows the range of Spanish moves outside of the familiar steps of flamenco. Saura offers upbeat sequences that spotlight the forms of jota from around the country.

The doc presents variations on a similar dance as regional hoofers put different accents on jota. The differences are subtle, but no two dances feel the same. Dancers drive some numbers with the staccato rhythm of castanets, while others flourish with heat and sexual spark as the artists flirt and gyrate to the beat. One performance dubbed “The Tarantula” tingles with a spidery, spindly rhythm.

Beyond Flamenco lets the dancers shine as Saura shoots the numbers on a plain black stage with mirrors. The minimal, no frills aesthetic often finds echoes in the cinematography, which frequently affords static long takes that let the dance play out in tableaux. Saura brings out the most of jota’s sexy rhythm, though, when he lets the camera dance in tandem with the performers. The extra movement gives the dance a spicier spark.

Like Morgan Neville’s recent doc The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, J: Beyond Flamenco offers a diverse range of performances that highlight a plurality of cultures and backgrounds that express themselves through the arts. While Neville’s film brings out the significance of international voices within the Silk Road’s musical mosaic through interviews, Saura highlights the history of flamenco through archival footage and songs that situate jota within the history of the Spanish Civil War. This lively doc conveys the spirit of jota as the endurance of a people and as a celebration of cultural tradition.

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