Carlos Saura: A Life in Love with Dance

  Before I saw the news of the death of Spanish film master Carlos Saura on February 11, I had just finished watching a movie about tango dance, “Tango Lesson”. In tango teaching, the hero and heroine are inseparable. They stare at and watch each other, accompanied by the rotation of the right to speak in artistic creation.
  But Carlos Saura’s movies about tango are still the most enjoyable, with more delicate structure and stronger emotions. Behind the scenes, the fate of the characters is entangled. I remember that in his “Tango Madness” (1998), the director frustrated in love rehearses a tango musical. During the rehearsal, love develops between him and the lover who is thrust in by the underworld boss to be the heroine. Tango dancing becomes a game of life and death.
  On February 10, 2023 local time, Carlos Saura died at his home in Spain at the age of 91.
  He learned photography at the age of 18, and at the age of 21, he received four years of director training in the director department of the National Film Research and Experimental School. Beginning in 1958, he taught at the school for six years, teaching directing, playwriting courses, and shooting documentaries. In 1959, the feature film “The Wanderer” directed by him was shortlisted for the Cannes International Film Festival. Later, he became a frequent visitor to the three major European film festivals, and was also recognized as one of the most important filmmakers in the history of Spanish film. “The Hunt” and “Peppermint Shaved Ice” brought him two Berlin Silver Bears, “Tango Madness” a Berlin Golden Bear and “Keeping a Crow” (with Geraldine Chaplin in the lead) won a Cannes Jury Prize.
  From the 1980s to the 1990s, Carlos Saura’s works were nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film three times, namely “Mama One Hundred Years Old”, “Carmen” and “Tango Crazy”, two of which are films about dance .
  I don’t know dance, and my viewing experience of tango and flamenco is basically from movies. But watching Carlos Saura’s films, we can understand his fascination with tango and flamenco to a certain extent. Many scenes take place in front of modest stage sets. The man pulls, the woman follows, teasing each other. Many times the characters don’t need to speak lines. In physical interaction, they are both intimate and wary, as if they are inseparable from each other. Watching Carlos Saura’s dance in the play, I tend to have a vague perception of the speed of the passage of real time. Simple rehearsal scenes are good-looking. It is worth mentioning that Carlos Saura is a master at filming rehearsal scenes. The whole film “Blood Marriage”, adapted from the Spanish poet Lorca’s play, is set in the rehearsal room. In one room, the tragic tension of revenge and destruction is fully pulled out through powerful mise-en-scène.
  He filmed the dance so well, it became an audio-visual feast, a spectacle, and it allowed me to have a multi-layered experience that I thought was hard to be satisfied watching live performances. When I think of Carlos Saura, I also think of Madrid and Buenos Aires in his movies, La Plata River, cello violin accordion, black trousers and red skirts of the hero and heroine, minimal beige stage background and Shadows of dancers in the background, pointe shoes close-up. The protagonist is insane, but at the end of the song, the dance stops, everything seems to be calm again, and the feelings become vaguely ambiguous.
  Some people think that after Franco’s dictatorship, Carlos Saura’s works are not as sharp as before. This also makes sense. In his later years, he was more like a craftsman who focused on preserving traditional Spanish song and dance. Thirteen years ago, his feature film “The Prodigal Son of the Opera” was released. Eight years ago, his song and dance documentary “Zonda: Argentine National Customs” was released; seven years ago, his song and dance film “Beyond Flamenco” was released.
  But what is still touching is that until a few years ago, he was still active in various film festivals in Spain. At the meeting, he was bald, his hair was all white, he wore glasses, and he took pictures of the audience with a small camera, like an old urchin.