'Impulso': Film Review

Courtesy of Kim Stim
Captures the essence of a mesmerizing performer.

Emilio Belmonte's documentary chronicles famed avant-garde flamenco dancer/choreographer Rocio Molina as she prepares for the Paris premiere of her latest piece.

"Impulso" is probably not be a word you're familiar with. It's how celebrated flamenco dancer and choreographer Rocio Molina describes the process behind her largely improvised performances that combine passionate emotion with thrilling technique. It's also the title of Emilio Belmonte's documentary about the performer providing an illuminating look at her creative process. Dance fans should not miss the opportunity to catch Impulso during its current U.S. theatrical premiere run at New York City's Film Forum.

If there's one quality that a flamenco dancer needs, besides talent, of course, it's charisma, and Molina has it in spades. The dancer, age 32 at the time of filming, commands the camera as well as she does the stage. Whether she's in repose or performing her intricate steps, it's practically impossible to take your eyes off her.

While Molina is a decidedly iconoclastic dancer, this film about her is fairly traditional in its behind-the-scenes format. It largely concentrates on the dancer's months-long rehearsals and preparations for a new piece, Caida del Cello, to be premiered at Paris' Chaillot National Theater. The doc also includes extensive performance footage of her performing at various theaters throughout Spain; interviews with her, her musicians, and her relatives; and, of course, excerpts from the finished product on opening night.

The rehearsal scenes provide evidence of the dancer's freewheeling style of physical improvisation, which she points out is not normally done in flamenco. Photographed in a studio with a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower and at her lavish family compound in Andalucia, they reveal an endlessly inventive dancer working side-by-side with her loyal musicians. She's also seen performing onstage with Antonia Santiago Amador, or "La Chana," a revered, veteran flamenco dancer whose advanced age has done little to affect her prowess.  

Molina is not exactly a newcomer. She first danced onstage at age 3 and has established herself as one of the foremost practitioners of her unique avant-garde brand of flamenco. Her onstage energy is almost disturbing in its intensity; in an interview, her mother tearfully says that she sometimes fears for her daughter's emotional and physical well-being as a result.

Besides her improvisations, among the other aspects differentiating Molina from traditional flamenco are her unorthodox costumes, use of heavily amplified rock music and striking visual imagery. In one piece, she writhes on a stage which becomes increasingly soaked with blood-red paint. She's also seen dancing while blindfolded, and at another time smoking a cigarette. But even she seems nervous about her new piece, which she describes as "jumping into the unknown" and is inspired by the imagery of Spanish painter Francisco Goya. "Caida is my least choreographed performance," Molina comments about her upcoming piece.

There's one problem about Impulso that inevitably afflicts documentaries about notable performers. For all its effective camerawork and editing, the film can't fully convey the experience of seeing its subject in person. But it certainly provides more than enough motivation for making every effort to do so.

Production company: Les Films de la Butte
Distributor: KimStim
Director-screenwriter: Emilio Belmonte
Producers: Sophie de Hijes, Nicolas Lesoult
Directors of photography: Dorian Blanc, Thomas Bremond
Editor: Matthieu Lambourin

87 minutes