Thursday, August 23, 2012

JIMFF 2012: Morente (Morente, flamenco y Picasso, Spain) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

I’m very glad I saw the Spanish documentary Morente, as it introduced me to a wonderful style of music that I was not very familiar beforehand but particularly because it brought the formidable artist Enrique Morente to my attention: a man with a beautiful voice who sings with heartrending passion. However, aside from its resplendent, larger-than-life protagonist, I have to chalk this documentary up as a failure. It is poorly made and worse it comes off as indulgent.

Enrique Morente was a flamenco singer who had reached the pinnacle of his art. At the time of the making of this film, which incidentally were his last days (he passed away shortly after the project wrapped), he is attempting to breathe his art into the words of Picasso, Spain’s most revered artist.

The bulk of the film is given over to his stage performances: during which he is accompanied by percussionists, acoustic guitarists and a troupe of impeccably dressed back-up singers (which includes his son). At first I was impressed by these musical numbers but not altogether engaged by them, so new was I to the music. Further into the film as I grew more accustomed to the particularities of a flamenco performance, I became awestruck by Morente’s stage act. Sadly, the elements that tie these interludes together are haphazard at best.

The documentarian follows Morente around, often with his family, and it is though he has asked him to be aloof and profound. Morente does not seem phased by the camera but his family does. As they walk mechanically in sun-drenched Spanish alleyways dressed to the nines, doing their best to act nonchalant it becomes a little uncomfortable. Most awkward of all may well be the Spartan crew that lies behind-the-scenes. Their jittery presence is painfully noticeable in these ‘verite’ moments and they don’t quite seem to know what to do with themselves.

Much more convincing are the concerts, which were clearly filmed by professionals. Then again, so commanding is Morente’s presence, so stirring his performances, that I think you could just leave any old camcorder on, shooting vaguely in his direction and you would still come away with some very worthwhile footage.

In the end, Morente is a film with beautiful music and a convincing subject. What it lacks is a story, as it offers no semblance of a direction. Also missing is technical skill and the judicious eye of a good documentarian. An artist like Enrique Morente, though I am ill familiar with him due to the lackadaisical focus of this effort, clearly deserved better treatment than this. 


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