Dir: Dominique Abel. Spain/France. 2003. 106mins.
Flamenco is fertile territory for a DV documentary crew with a mission to go beyond the tourist cliches. And this is what French actress-turned-documentarist Dominique Abel and a fast-moving group of technicians headed up by cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (Good Will Hunting, Nurse Betty) have done in Seville South Side. Though it lacks the narrative structure and some of the cinematic panache of Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club, it still has enough great flamenco guitar playing and singing, and enough of an insight (albeit an indulgent one) into this tightly-knit 'problem' community to carry audience interest. Its digital production values make the film an obvious candidate for upmarket TV airings; theatrically, it may tickle a few specialised arthouse markets outside of Spain, where it opens next month. The film premiered in the Panorama sidebar at Berlin.
The name is that of a run-down housing estate on the south of Seville, now the new home of the city's gypsy community, forced out of its original inner-city base by high rents and tourist bodegas. The film opens with a panning shot of the Tres Mil housing project (another name for Poligono Sur), then zooms in on a donkey looking out of a fourth-floor window. There is something patronising about this symbolism of the meeting between peasant values and city boxes, and the feeling is not dissipated by how the camera caresses and flatters its rough-edged subjects too admiringly.
But resistance crumbles when the music starts and pervades the life of this tight-knit community. Guitars and flamenco dance steps are the peacekeepers here; as soon as they are flourished, arguments melt into the background, or transform into a musical duel. If there is no guitar, a rhythm drummed out on a bar counter will do. The camera homes in on firelit faces, darting between bodies to focus on a guitarist's hands. Kids are an integral part of this world; one sequence shows a 10- or 11-year-old girl in the concrete shell of some half-built architectural abortion suddenly launch into a flamenco chant.
There are passages of surreal humour, especially in the dialogue, as when one local character tells the camera 'I once had the pleasure to work in a movie - as a tree'. Such moments contrast with long discussions about the suburb's heroin problems, which feel staged. And the tribute concert for a local songsmith, which constitutes Seville South Side's narrative goal - in true Buena Vista 'let's get a band together' mode - is a letdown: more conventional concert photography with more variety of camera angles would have produced a more satisfying pay-off.
Prod co: Maestranza Films
Sp dist: Nirvana
Int'l sales: Produce Plus
Prods: Antonio P Perez. Jose Manuel Lorenzo, Pierre Olivier Bardet
Scr: Dominique Abel, Juan Jose Ibanez
Cinematography: Jean-Yves Escoffier
Prod des: Lala Obrero
Ed: Fernando Franco
Main cast: Emilio Caracate, Ramon Quilate, Luis de los Santos, Rafael Amador, Jose Jimenez, Martin Revuelo, Juana Revuelo, Cesareo Hernandez, Diego Amador, Churri Amador