“I am afraid of losing you,” flamenco director Antonio tells the young, strikingly beautiful woman who has become his lover during rehearsals of his adaptation of Bizet’s opera Carmen, in which he plays Don José to her Carmen. The young dancer’s name also is Carmen. Wiry and weather-beaten, Antonio is not so young; in his mid-forties—years that the demands of dancing have stretched—he is continually reaching back to rub a sore shoulder. Carmen is too young and proud of her independence to grasp that Antonio is, beneath his fear of losing her, afraid of losing his Prospero’s wand, in his case, his ability to dance and, beneath that, life. Her reassurance—“Can’t you see that I love you only?”—hasn’t much hope of reassuring him because even we do not see this and even we, untouched by Antonio’s self-admitted “possessiveness” regarding her, wonder about her truthfulness and fidelity, especially as she manipulates money out of him so that her spouse, just released from prison, can start afresh somewhere else. As a result, when Carmen ultimately says to Antonio, “Can’t you see that I no longer love you?” what is he to make of this? She looks no different than when she declared her exclusive love for him.
Although the visual style of the film we are watching, Carlos Saura’s Carmen, the middle part of his Flamenco Trilogy, is stark and electric, there is a dreamlike fluidity amongst rehearsal hall, theatrical stage and Antonio’s apartment; the members of the company are such creatures of dance that even a wide-angle shot of them all seated at tables, seamlessly inserted, seems an extension of them all on their feet, in character, dancing. Alone, Antonio imagines Carmen as Carmen—and there she is, seductively circling him in costume. A backstage card game just as seamlessly becomes a duel with wooden spears between Antonio and Carmen’s spouse, played out in shadow and substance, and in between in a mixture of the two, with Antonio “killing” his competitor, and then asking “Did I hurt you?” when this “dead man” rises from the floor, unharmed. The film ends with José/Antonio stabbing Carmen/Carmen again and again, an open door blocking our view. Through the heart—isn’t that right? Carmen/Carmen falls onto Antonio’s feet. Not a drop of blood is visible. The camera pans screen-left. Nobody else has bothered to notice. Their reality hasn’t yet caught up with Antonio’s fear-ridden dream.
In the multilayered context that Saura provides, all the brilliant dancing by Antonio Gades, the film’s choreographer who plays Antonio, is heartrending: sometimes facing a mirror (and perhaps seeing how much better he used to be), always facing the end of time.
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