Por el flamenco (2009) — a film by Shem Shemy


One of the distinct benefits that I gain from this blog is receiving news about flamenco and flamencophilia from readers around the globe. So I was delighted to find a stash of emails recently of which I had been oblivious and that had lain unopened for a long while — my sincere apologies to all those who had to wait to receive replies. Amongst these was a message from Shem Shemy, an Israeli filmmaker who has charted his own emotional journey through flamenco. Generously, he sent me a copy of his film Por el flamenco, a title that defies translation into English, for it could mean both ‘Through flamenco’ and ‘For flamenco’s sake’. The truth is that the film fits both titles, because although the filmmaker finds emotional catharsis through flamenco, in fact, flamenco, versatile, unique and bonding, is an equally real protagonist here and so too flamencophilia. There are many of us out there, like Shemy and his friend Yoel, hooked by flamenco, obsessed by it day in and out, night after night, desiring always to catch the palo on its crest and willing to forsake it all to pursue flamenco trails. So this is a film that not only speaks to a global flamenco community, but also represents us.

This is really a film about flamenco as a journey. It is also a conversation that the filmmaker has with his father, who was badly wounded in his youth and whose pain is transmitted over the years to his young son. However, over and beyond the personal or autobiographical elements of this story, this film is rich in glimpses of flamenco as a way of life for so many in southern Spain. Shemy successfully eschews the flamenco of tourist traps and Andalusian stereotypes and he also avoids flamenco as high art or studio rehearsal. Instead, he traces flamenco as a way of life. Set in Granada, the film charts a series of flamenco encounters there and in other parts of southern Spain that culminate in a visit to the home in Jeréz de la Frontera of none other than Dolores Agujetas. If ever deep song could expose the raw, jagged nerve of loss and sorrow, it must be through the haunting voices of the Agujetas family. Back in the day, I did some extended research on flamenco through the figure of her brother Antonio Agujetas, and his rendition of a seguiriya, sung in the chapel of a prison, still rings in my ears. His sister is also a mesmerizing singer, indeed, surely one of the most powerful female singers of deep song alive.

There is an absolutely singular moment in the film, when a waiter in a restaurant somewhere in the south of Spain sings. This is a scene of real flamenco magic. As this man sang, my heart stopped in wonder. Here was someone whose greatness could match the Morentes of this world! How many andaluces, one wonders, go about their daily business, harbouring within them a rich vein of arte?

My thanks to Shem Shemy for sending me his film. I hope that someday there will be a roving international festival of flamenco films that we all get to see. Por el flamenco deserves to be up there with the best.

November 21, 2011 Post Under General - Read More

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