Like some other great European authors who began to work in the 20th century, the Spaniard Carlos Saura (Raise Ravens, peppermint shake) regularly worked on a movie every year or two for decades. Much of his work over the past two decades has been devoted to documentaries centered on music and dance from Spain, Portugal and Argentina (Fados, flamenco flamenco). It’s no surprise, then, that his first narrative film in nearly 20 years is a musical about theater and dance.
In reality, Everyone’s King is a long rehearsal, the creation of a piece of music and dance – Saura recounts here the process of creation, with the ups and downs endured by its creators. Working with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Revelation now, the last emperor), there are amazing scenes with vibrant contemporary dance to Mexican music (Lila Downs, Carlos Rivera, Fela Dominguez among those whose work is featured), beautifully filmed and lit. The narrative itself, well, falls a bit flat, despite its dramatic ups and downs of love, jealousy, and violence.
Theater director Manuel (Manuel García-Rulfo) asks choreographer and ex-lover Sara (Ana de la Reguera) to create a musical with him – and she’ll be at the center, as a woman who survived a terrible car accident. From her wheelchair, she will choreograph the show, a task she finds both difficult and challenging. Lead dancer Inés (Greta Elizondo) is a young hopeful from the city’s poor suburbs, and she has her own issues, with a father struggling with a criminal gang and another dancer stalking her. The film itself becomes that narrative, in part, moving between the show within a show and the real lives of those who create it.
Like a twist on many films, the stories – Inés and her run-ins with the men in her life, Sara adjusting to a tough proposition – serve as the backdrop for the show’s creation. It’s a wonderful reconstruction of that theatrical process on screen – from the moment of concept, when Manuel explains his radical idea to Sara (which seems too emotionally reflective of their rocky relationship, and he and Sara go around the stage in the empty theater, their imagination is slowly building up. Then the light and color of the dancers in sportswear, the sweat, the smiles and the anger of having pulled off the move. The camera of a stage can be the spectator who watches from his theater seat, and other times they are the dancer, moving between the other bodies. This is when the film shines and is joyful to watch.
But something is missing when the film cuts to what happens outside of that creation. With few exceptions, such as when Sara is alone, thinking about the choreography, understanding the space she has to occupy for the role, or when she discovers the janitor’s son whose dancing ability is extraordinary, the energy is too similar to feel engaged with much of this sub-narrative. The film tackles the terrible violence that seems endemic to much of Mexico, and you see it all the way (all it takes is a few touches to understand its depth and horror). But given the romance, the energy and the life when the dancers are on screen, it’s hard not to stomp your feet in anticipation to get back there. Saura has always worked hard to show how women suffer under patriarchy, and here he shows how women are more contemporary, or trying to wield more power, but even that falls a bit flat.
Still, that may be a minor issue: de la Reguera is an anchor for the cast and the story, always illuminating the screen, and Storaro’s fine work, which blends film and theater in perfect harmony, there still have so much to enjoy in Everyone’s King that you can savor the dance and the songs enough.
- Ana de la Reguera
- Manuel Garcia Rulfo
- Enrique Arce
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