Once the music of the Portuguese working-class and later of the nation’s military dictatorship, the fado — a gorgeous, 19-century song style suffused with lamentation, desire and memory — is undergoing a revival. The latest boost comes from Carlos Saura’s music/performance film, “Fados,” as a completion of his music-pic trilogy. Yet even as the fado is polished for contempo times, Saura’s familiar mode of music cinema, lensed in an open studio with large transparency screens, has come to feel standardized. Because the pic verges on musicvid territory, the strongest biz following fests will be in vid and specialty cable.
Explanatory graphic explains that the fado was born in Lisbon’s 1820s slums, where newcomers from Portuguese colonies and rural outposts settled, and created a music style capturing a longing for homelands, lost loves and unfulfilled hopes. What may surprise fado fans is how the pic quickly launches into dance and group performances (including a hip-hop segment with rappers NBC, SP & Wilson), and gradually shifts into the song’s more familiar solo singer-with-instrument mode.
The selection of those singers is first-class, providing an array of fado all-stars including the astonishing Mariza (bound for Stateside concerts in October), older master Carlos Do Carmo, the sensitive male singer Camane, world music fave Caetano Veloso, Brazilian master Chico Buarque and a terrific fado competition featuring older and younger singers, including 20-year-old Carminho, in a set re-creation (by Saura, who as usual oversees production design) of a Lisbon tavern that will be immensely nostalgic for any past visitors to the burg’s many music haunts.
These classy segments include tributes to such great fadistas as Amalia Rodrigues and Buarque’s sung love-letter to Portugal, complemented by fine newsreel clips of street celebrations during the country’s 1975 revolution. Several pieces, alas, are either expendable or even cheesy (one risible segment features Brazilian reggae star Toni Garrido with a gaggle of female dancers in long, colonial-era dresses), harming the film’s emotional momentum.
Production is roughly in line with Saura’s previous music films, though it’s regrettable that the helmer didn’t revive his past collaborations with maestro cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (“Flamenco,” “Tango,” “Goya in Bourdeaux”) for this project.