Siete Jereles: Seville Review

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Siete Jereles: Seville Review

An exploration of the flamenco traditions of the Spanish city of Jerez

Source: Seville European Film Festival

Siete Jereles

Dirs: Pedro G. Romero, Gonzalo Garcia Pelayo. Spain. 2022. 125mins

An ambitious attempt to capture on film the essence of the Andalucian city of Jerez, Siete Jereles is a vibrant, immersive and captivating exercise in barely-controlled delirium which superbly replicates the mood of its subject – flamenco music. More than two hours of song and dance, striking imagery and night-time street chats bring to life, in a particularly Andalusian idiom, a radically alternative, non-tourist celebration of the city as made and sung by locals. Sadly, the film’s defiantly insular approach may mean that international interest is limited, although festivals willing to take a punt on some magical Spanish authenticity will find it here in abundance.

An ambitious attempt to capture on film the essence of the Andalucian city of Jerez

Siete Jereles is a companion piece to Pedro G. Romero and Gonzalo Garcia Pelayo’s more conventionally structured Nueve Sevillas (2020), about flamenco in Seville. It’s hermetic right down to its title: jerele, best translated as “things about Jerez”, is a word unfamiliar to most non-Andalusians, and while most of the participants and references are well-known in and around Jerez, zero context is supplied for any of them.

Viewers would do best to just go with the flow; particularly as each of the film’s seven sections, each exploring a particular facet of Jerez life, consists of a single long tracking shot. Alex Catalan’s camera masterfully slinks its way down the cobbled streets and passageways of the city at night, and even in and out of rooms, capturing often remarkable performances by Jerez singers and dancers; alternatives to the more mainstream performers on the international flamenco circuit. One performance in a church, accompanied by an organ, is stunning: flamenco, so often considered a pagan art, has its ties with religion too.

The events are framed to be set over a single night. At sundown, seven magnificent horses are led from the fields outside the city and into the narrow streets of its barrios: they will pop up strikingly throughout the film, and often in the most unexpected places. This trope works far better than the clumsy decision to have co-director Gonzalo García Pelayo walking backwards through the city, as a none-too-subtle indicator of his maverick, contrarian perspective.

In the end, Siete Jereles is a celebration of Jerez’s flamenco performers: some more traditional, such as La Macanita, singing the pure cante jondo (‘deep song’) that is considered to be the purest form of flamenco; others, such as Diego Carrasco or the rock band Los Delinquentes, offering a fusion of flamenco with other musical forms. Most are drawn from the traditional Romani flamenco families, and all ages are represented: there’s something thrilling about watching an 80-year-old who has been gently tapping his feet suddenly unable to contain himself and leap up to dance.

Whether it’s for their intense pain or joy, many of these performances are simply compelling – to the extent, inevitably, that the film itself can’t compete with them. It is they, rather than for the admittedly thought-provoking insights provided by the film’s interviews, that linger in the memory. And spare a thought for the poor subtitler, straining to translate the evocative, often abstract lyrics. One interviewee reminds us that flamenco lyrics contain whole stories: ’The night of the downpour / Tell me where you were / Because your hair wasn’t wet’.

As an intriguing footnote, co-director Garcia Pelayo is a minor legend in Spain as the man who, back in the 1990s, took on the roulette tables of the world’s casinos and won, having brilliantly figured out that the tables themselves invariably have tiny design flaws. Such out-of-the-box thinking is visible in practically every frame of Siete Jereles.

Production companies: La Zanfona, Serie Gong Cine

International sales: La Zanfona

Producers: Gervasio Iglesias, Pilar Campano

Screenplay: Pedro G. Romero

Cinematography: Alex Catalan

Production design: Belen Candil

Editing: Sergi Dies

Music: Miriam Blanch

Main cast: Diego Carrasco, Tia Juana la del Pipa, Los Delinquentes, Dani Llamas, La Macanita, Javier Garcia Pelayo.

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