Carlos Saura's Fados Reviews a Portuguese Folk Tradition

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Fados
Directed by Carlos Saura
New Yorker Films
Opens March 6, Lincoln Plaza

"The Fado" is a dolorous folksong tradition from Portugal, first sung in the early 19th century by barefoot peasants mending nets and contemplating a roiling black Atlantic. It has survived to the present day, providing MP3 succor to middle-class professionals on antidepressants (lyric: "It was God's will that I live with anxiety")—and now it's the subject of a film revue by the venerable Carlos Saura. Contemporary celebs appear (superstar fadista mewlers Mariza and Lura), alongside ghosts (Amália "Queen of Fado" Rodrigues). Saura is formally ambitious—a troupe travels through the film, articulating lyrics in dance—but the movie missteps when departing wholly from the intrinsic nostalgia of its subject, as the seventysomething director imposes his idea of contemporary cool: interspersed hip-hop trio NBC, SP & Wilson, and Brazilian reggae artist Toni Garrido. The sequestering of performers into warehouse-studio spaces adds a certain chill to the proceedings, but there are happy exceptions. Nonagenarian Argentina Santos fills her single-take frame with stout gravitas. The penultimate scene takes place in the House of Fados, a Freed Unit version of a Lisbon barroom, its walls a graveyard of headshots, where song is passed around like a challenge and teenaged braceface Carminho shuts the place down.

 
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