Time Out New York Project: Issue #701, March 5-11, 2009
Dir. Carlos Saura. 2007. N/R. 90mins. In Portuguese, with subtitles. Documentary.
Carlos Saura’s documentary on the Portuguese musical tradition of fado is an inviting and immersive experience, the third piece of a song-and-dance triptych that also includes Flamenco (1995) and Tango (1998). As in one of Jonathan Demme’s concert films, the filmmaker trusts that performance alone provides the necessary context: Save an opening-credits crawl explaining the history of fado (born among the lower-class residents of Portugal’s 19th-century port cities, it’s a genre composed of melancholic vocal and instrumental ballads), Fados consists entirely of musical set pieces.
Saura’s elegant use of mirrors, rear projection and lighting cues give the proceedings a theatrical feel; however, his efforts are pure cinema, whether he cuts in for emotional close-ups during a tangolike ode to jealousy or allows a song to unfold in a fourth-wall-breaking single take. The director possesses a deep respect for the genre’s traditions, but he does not neglect the influence of fado up to the present moment (as evidenced by the presence of Brazilian reggae star Toni Garrido and hip-hop artists NBC, SP & Wilson). Indeed, there’s a burgeoning sense as the film goes on that Saura (a Spaniard) is subtly interrogating the history of a people; Fados’ brilliant closing image quite literally brings this idea to the fore.—Keith Uhlich