‘Paco de Lucia: the Search’ (‘Paco de Lucia: la Busqueda’): San Sebastian Review
Family-made biodoc of the recently deceased Spanish musician, directed by his son and written and produced by his daughter
The death of Paco de Lucia early in 2014 at just 66 years of age left a huge gap in world music, taking the prodigiously gifted and creative guitarist while he was still a major creative force. Paco de Lucia: the Search was sadly the last of several documentaries to be made about him during his lifetime, so luckily it strikes just the right tone as a homage to the music and, to a lesser degree, to the man. The fact that it was directed, scripted and produced by his children lends the project an enjoyable air of relaxed intimacy, of a home movie, that befits its status as a final tribute. Via a variety of formats, de Lucia’s worldwide fan base should find what they’re looking for in The Search.
His son Curro Sanchez Varela’s approach is to shuttle back and forth between the chronological past and the present. In terms of the events, there’s little here that hasn’t already appeared in other documentaries, of which Jesus de Diego and Daniel Hernandez’s from 2002, which won multiple awards, is to the fore.
The life of the flamenco musician who looked more like David Carradine than any other -- wonderfully and tellingly, he once signed an autograph as Carradine for a Carradine fan -- is a feature film waiting to happen. Born into poverty in Andalucia, into a late 40s Spain in which flamenco musicians were considered to be the lowest of the social low, he was a taciturn child with, by his own admission, chubby thighs and a fat bottom: you had, as his brother Pepe explains, "to guess things" when he spoke.
Under the guidance of a disciplinarian father, he started playing when he was seven. The family moved to Madrid and from there to America and a 1962 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show backing the good-looking, fast-footed and theatrical dancer El Greco: "gringos like the cliches about Spain", de Lucia tells us. His big solo break was a performance of La malaguena at LA’s Greek Theater, which luckily for us was recorded.
It’s a familiar story, and the footage of de Lucia’s breathtaking fingerwork is unfailingly wonderful, including material that has never been previously released. Colleagues from the various stages of his professional life reflect on various aspects of his music and his character: his perfectionism, his fabled insecurity when playing with John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell, because he couldn’t improvise jazz, and which manifested itself in terrible headaches and back pain; his perennial concerns (well-founded) about his rejection by the flamenco community. The focus is mainly on the professional, with sharp insights into musically complex genre of flamenco, though not so many as to be off-puttingly technical.
Aside from the music, the film is most engaging when de Lucia himself is the interviewee. At ease when being interviewed by his own family in a way that he often is not in interview footage, he seems to relive experiences as he tells them, still feeling embarrassment at the comically cheesy shots of a 70s attempt to make him a star, still marveling at the good fortune that united his career with that of the great singer Camaron de la Isla, and refreshingly frank: "I was left-wing”, he explains, “until I made my first two million pesetas." A picture emerges of a driven man: "They’ve put me on such a pedestal ," he confesses, "that if I fall below people’s expectations, I’m miserable."
Some of this is true, some of it is mythology. Some of it may be memories of memories, rather than memories of events, and not a word of criticism of him passes anyone’s lips except his own. Which is how it should be in a final tribute: Paco de Lucia died in Mexico of a heart attack in February 2014, two days before he was due to shoot the final scenes of The Search.
Production company: Ziggurat Films
Director, screenwriter: Curro Sanchez Varela
Screenwriter: Curro Sanchez Varela, Casilda Sanchez Varela
Executive producer: Anxo Rodriguez
Director of photography: Alejandro Garcia Flores
Composer: Francisco Sanchez (Paco de Lucia)
Editor: Jose Manuel Garcia Moyano
Sales: Ziggurat Films