Credit: FIDMarseille
by Joshua Peinado Featured Film

Flamenco — Jean-Claude Rousseau [FIDMarseille ’24 Review]

July 5, 2024

The cinema of Jean-Claude Rousseau is one inexorably tied to its architecture — whether natural or forged — and one whose structural nature makes full use of film’s power to distort elements of time and space, as in his latest, Flamenco. The film is constructed similarly to many other late Rousseau shorts, with the noted exception of its actual content, which feels like a radical change to the filmmaker’s perspective and energy, a decidedly late period work which integrates new technologies and an until now unknown ecstaticism.

Flamenco music and a ballroom waltz greet the audience before the main act: intermittent black screens interrupt action which takes place in a hotel room, a quotidian event for any Rousseau fan. The room is roughly divided into three planes of action whose relation to time is ever-changing and interconnected. On the right is a man pressed against an obscure glass pane, whose slow, definitively solitary movement suggests a form of self-pleasure or possible anguish; in the middle, a white wall which is used as a canvas on which Rousseau digitally layers apparent phone footage of a woman flamenco dancing. A flamenco soundtrack cuts in and out as does the flamenco performance, though their entrances and exits rarely overlap. The man in the “window” continues his “dance” in partnership with the phantom flamenco dancer, before he and the dancer disappear and Rousseau himself fades into view in the center, appearing out of thin air as if manifested. He wanders and leaves through a door on the left side of the room, which is now used for the first time.

Rousseau’s black screen plays the role of timekeeper, as each cut represents a jump to a new moment, though there’s no easy way to tell what is the past and the future until the complete picture is formed. Non-diegetic sound and images of flamenco complicate what is otherwise a simple story, and form a twist in Rousseau’s filmography that’s not easy to parse. It’s a film that demands at least one repeat viewing to completely grasp on a narrative level, and untold viewings to understand beyond that. It feels like an homage to the origins of cinema, when lenses were naturally attracted to the whirlwind, dynamistic movement of the flamenco dancer — from Thomas Edison’s Carmencita (1894) to Carlos Saura’s Flamenco trilogy (1981, 1983, 1986) all the way to Rousseau’s latest.

Published as part of FIDMarseille 2024: Dispatch 2.