Zeitgeist Films // 2007 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // October 1st, 2009
The most beautiful music in the world.
Fado, the wonderful musical tradition from Portugal, traces its roots into Africa and the Middle East, and has been performed for centuries in its native country. In his third performance film, after Flamenco and Tango, director Carlos Saura explores this rich tradition and its roots in the culture, while exposing many to the beauty of Fadista performance.
While this is a performance film and not a documentary, Fados still manages to relay a story of this music. There is no narration and no attempt to explain the nature of the film. Instead, Saura lets the music speak for itself. Each segment is a performance of its own, with its own unique staging and style. Like accidentally running across a satellite feed for MTV-Lisbon, Fados is ninety minutes of what amounts to little more than music videos, but that's exactly what works about the film. We can sit back and let the music take hold, allowing us to appreciate how the sounds interplay with the images to give each song its own small narrative. Some of these are very simple, static performances using the traditional singer and guitarist setup. Some feature more elaborate instrumentation and setting, while others use the style in completely different forms of music, such as reggae and hip-hop.
The segments show the performances in various settings, ranging from very minimalist stages and light to elaborate restaurant scenes, choreographed dance numbers, and fado battles. Each setting fits its song well; Saura films these segments brilliantly, no matter the scenario. The more narrative-based settings have the slick feel of a modern musical, while the stagey segments are very intimate, darkly lit and shot closely. Still others verge into the realm of the art film; dancers performing in front of angled mirrors with varying colors and lighting schemes add the occasional surreal touch to the film. With the look and sound changing every three to five minutes, Fados doesn't get old for a second.
The real thrust of Fados, however, is the music, which is all absolutely brilliant. I love fado and could prattle on forever about its beauty; how the music feels like raw emotion merged with sound; how those sounds sweep me up on a wave of joy and sorrow, but I won't bore you with my gushing. Instead, I'll simply say that those who have heard fado music know how amazing a form it is; those who have not deserve to. Both will quickly and easy fall in love with Carlos Saura's celebration of the music.
The DVD release from Zeitgeist Films is a little light on the extras, but its technical aspects more than make up for the lack. The anamorphic image is superb, crisp and clean at all times. Saura's color palette is perfectly represented, vivid and detailed both in brightly lit and darker scenes. The sound is the most important thing here, however, and it's equally as good as the image. The surround mix is strong in all channels; the vocals come clear and strong through the center speaker while the music fills the room. The only notable extras are a half hour making-featurette with interesting, if not all that exciting, behind the scenes footage, and a guide to the artists in the film, good if one wants to start a quality fado collection.
Fados is a wonderful film that could easily be on in the background of my house for a long time to come.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Performer Guide