Fados: Saura’s Third Panel in Musical Trilogy (Flamenco, Tango)

Carlos Saura’s “Fados,” from an original idea by Ivan Dias, is the third installment of the Spanish director’s musical trilogy, which includes the documentary “Flamenco” (1995) and “Tango” (1998), which was nominated for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar.

A fado is son sung by a woman or a man alone with eyes closed, accompanied by musicians on various types of guitars, often performed in rustic cafés known as Casas de Fados.  Fados have been sung in Lisbon for 150 years, and though their roots are in Africa, the fado was actually born at the same time as flamenco, tango and jazz, in poor urban cities.

The film begins and ends with fados about the trials and tribulations of ordinary folks, reflecting their despair and poverty, but also love and passion, courage and survival.  Portugal has a rich colonial history and the fado exprsesses the many cultural influences over the decades.  There’s a segment from the Portuguese film “A Severa,” about a prostitute who died young.

Portugal’s Tourist Board was behind the movie, and you can see why: “Fados” combines social anthropology, music, and vistas. Originally associated with prostitutes and the working-class members, these ballads gradually began to appeal members of society’s upper echelons, and later on, they also gained popularity outside of Portugal.

Give this unusual film a chance—it takes time for the simple but elegant and captivating acts to cast their spell. Note the sequence featuring the late great Amalia Rodrigues in rehearsal, or songs by Carlos do Carmo, or those performed by the dynamic Mariza, who recently began a tour in the U.S. The movie concludes with a vocal duel in a Casa De Fados.

Since the fado is an oral and aural art form about indigenous Portuguese characters, it’s important to understand the texts and the subtitles are useful. Though in “Fados” sounds and words are just as important as images, the film is not as static as it could have been.  A skillful filmmaker, Saura is known for his elegant and fluid compositions, most evident in the concluding shot, in which the camera circles and pans before zeroing in on the performance.

About Carlo Saura

A prolific film director (born in 1932) whose filmography includes over 30 pictures, Saura brought his interest for flamenco into some of his works: “Bodas de Sangre” (1981), “Carmen” (1983), “El Amor Brujo” (1985), “Sevillanas” (1991) and “Flamenco” (1995).  One of the greatest tributes to genre of singing and dancing, “Flamenco” is also one of Saura’s most famous and popular films. Although all his work is devoted to chronicling musical traditions, “Flmenco” stands out in its passion and thoroughness.  The movie includes the most important figures of the era and this format with over 100 renowned artists-geniuses of flamenco, such as Paco de Lucía, Manolo Sanlúcar, Lole y Manuel, Remedios Amaya, Ketama, Agujetas, Aurora Vargas, Carmen Linares.


End of an Era

“Fados” is the last film to be distributed by Dan Talbot’s New Yorker Films, after four decades of distributing the best art films made by Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and many others.  Prior to the VCR Revolution (and after), many of us got an expansive film education, and were kept abreast of the new currents of world cinema, due to the risk-taking and heroic Dan Talbot and his New Yorker Theatre.


Directed by Carlos Saura

Written by Ivan Dias and Carlos Saura

Running time: 85 minutes