‘Fados’ celebrates distinctive Portuguese musical tradition

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:08pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

If the movie gods are fair, they will allow “Fados” the same kind of success found by “Buena Vista Social Club” and other such musical celebrations. This film is a sultry tribute to an old artistic tradition.

It is a series of performances of fado, the Portuguese musical form that rose from the streets in the 19th century. The highly dramatic style of the music, which is full of longing and torrid romance and melancholy, comes to us in a cascade of superbly visualized performances.

The performers themselves are among the best known from the world of fado. The spellbinding Mariza, notable for her close-cropped platinum hair, is as fine an actress as she is a singer — in fact, the two things are inextricably entwined in her rendition of a song (happily, she gets more than one chance to deliver in “Fados”).

And check out Carlos do Carma, a gloriously old-school troubadour, who suggests what might’ve happened if Frank Sinatra had gotten lost in a twisty Lisbon neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Along the way we meet a variety of guitar players, dancers and singers, some of them from former Portuguese colonies, such as Brazil and Mozambique. The film begins with an African-flavored explosion of rhythm, as though to remind us of the many different roots of fado.

Homage is also paid to past fado personalities by means of old film footage. A sequence of Amalia Rodrigues, one of the most famous of fado singers, is a rehearsal clip with a wonderfully offhand quality about it.

And along with the mainstream musicians are hip-hop performers NBC, SP and Wilson, whose music and lyrics (at least as translated in the subtitles) are ingenious.

“Fados” is directed by Carlos Saura, the Spanish filmmaker who, along with his many fictional features, has made a number of music-performance films, including the sizzling flamenco epics “Blood Wedding” and “Carmen.”

Not only does Saura have a feel for the music, he has created a coherent approach for these numbers. Everything is shot inside a warehouselike performance studio, but in different styles — and the camera, not merely an observer, participates in the action.

I can’t claim much prior knowledge of fado, which means I can confidently say that you don’t need to know this music beforehand to be carried away by it. This movie will create a lot of converts.

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