Monday, January 23, 2012

Carlos Saura's Fados

Duvideo, Fado Filmes, and Zebra Producciones present a musical entitled Fados de Carlos Saura in 2007.  Zeitgeist Films distributes the movie on DVD in 2009.  Carlos Saura, known for his critically acclaimed movies like Tango and Flamenco, directs this recital of songs inspired by the fado genre.  Fado has its origins in nineteenth century Lisbon and consists mainly of melancholy themes of loss, or saudade.  The list of performers that appear in this movie includes, in no particular order, the following: Carlos do Carmo, Mariza, Camané, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Toni Garrido, Lura, Lila Downs, Miguel Poveda, Catarina Moura, Argentina Santos, Cuca Roseta, NBC, SP & Wilson, Vicente da Câmara, Maria da Nazaré, Pedro Moutinho, Ana Sofia Varela, Carminho, Ricardo Ribeiro, Ricardo Rocha, Jaime Santos, and Brigada Víctor Jara.

Fados is one of those films that begins with a great idea, but does not have the corporate resources to fund it.  Therefore, many entities are solicited to pitch in.  As a result, a virtually long list of sponsors appears before the actual introduction to the movie.  (I will list the contributors here, because a person that navigates the bureaucratic jungle to obtain finances for any film does an impressive feat.  For each contributor, I will place a link for anyone interested in researching that particular entity.  Since these institutions come from Portugal and Spain, the websites will be in Portuguese and Spanish, although most, if not all of them, do provide English translations.)  According to the opening credits, the film producers are as follows: Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, Empresa de Gestão de Equipamentos e Animação Cultural, Turismo de Portugal (Ministério da Economia e do Emprego), and TVI (Televisão Independente, S.A.).  The film receives support from these institutions: Eurimages (European Cinema Support Fund of the Council of Europe); Programa Ibermedia or CACI (el Fondo Iberoamericano de Ayuda and la Conferencia de Autoridades Audiovisuales y Cinematográficas de Iberoamérica); and Gobierno de España, Ministerio de Cultura, Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA).  TVE (Televisión Española) participates in the making of this movie.  Additional financial support comes from the Instituto de Crédito Oficial that is under the supervision of the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad and managed by la Secretaría de Estado de Economía.

Having obtained the funds needed to produce the movie, the director effectively husbands his resources to create a simple yet fantastic recital of film, dance, song, music, and story.  Saura uses translucent screens diffusing back lighting in rich, colorful hues.  Shadows of performers on these screens depict a sense of movement and intrigue.  These backgrounds offer an affordable alternative to expensive venues, offering a glossy, postmodern view of fado with simulacra to a twenty-first century international audience.  Saura also uses instantaneous or previously recorded imagery projected onto screens behind the performers.  The technique supposes a sort of metafiction or narrated level.  He uses mirrors to reflect sides and profiles in an eerie symmetrical trompe l’oeil.  You think you are seeing the performance until you realize that it is only a reflection.  This trick gets you thinking about how Saura is able to perform this trick without having the reflection of the camera come into view.  Mirrors also help in the composition of the shots, especially with singers.  The reflections may show a profile, another side, a multiplication, or a complete reversal of a performer, allowing the observer to contemplate the performances in a phenomenological way.  When you think you have gotten used to Saura’s cinematography, you see a change of technique in “Um Homem na Cidade.”  You think, “Are there green screens here?”  No, they are hanging pictures of cityscapes in Lisbon.  You figure this out by the reflections of light on the ebony flooring of the studio.

In numbers that incorporate dances, dancers become affected by light and sound of an archived film.  Dancers, in exchange, project their own shadows upon the image.  Each medium affects the other.  In one of the simultaneous recordings and projections, you see a dance performed and repeated again ad infinitum.  Each projection slightly lags to produce a visual echo on screens and mirrors.  During “Grândola,” dancers take a break and watch a clip showing Amália Rodrigues rehearsing the song.  It is a movie within a movie.  The camera almost imperceptibly zooms in to the projection on the screen until it fills the audience’s screen in full.  Rodrigues’s eye then introduces the next number played by Caetano Veloso, who sings “Estranha Forma de Vida.”  All the dances have either modern, African, folk, ballet, hip hop, or ballroom style.  In “Menina Você Que Tem,” Africans don nineteenth century Portuguese clothing, hold fans, and dance around a simulation of a Portuguese palace.  (I see it as a type of Occidentalism meets Exoticism.)  Does “Foi na Travessa da Palha” show rehearsed choreography or a choreographed rehearsal?  Of course, it is the latter, but the atmosphere lends an intimate and casual feeling as the spectator watches.  It then smoothly transitions into a performance where Lila Downs sings and acts like an intradiegetic-homodiegetic narrator.  The song narrates a love triangle whose two women have a cat fight over the lover.  Better yet, they fight it out in slow motion.  The singer’s avatar wins her lover back.  Not all fado songs are mournful or confrontational.  “Fado Batido” has dancers around a campfire that is strangely burning in the middle of the sound stage.  It is lively, cheerful, and has a folk dance quality to it.

Saura also takes the opportunity to show how fado has impacted the real world.  In “O Fado da Severa,” singers use a sanfona and a panel of painted pictures on a canvas to tell a story of a count that has lost his love to death.  “Revolução” shows scenes of the Carnation Revolution during the 1970s when a dictatorship ended in Portugal.  An iconic movie star during the silent film era gets a nostalgic treatment in “Rua do Capelão.”  Archival footage of Alfredo Marceneiro singing “Tricana” and Amália Rodrigues singing “Grândola” also figure into the historical documentary.  Even Portuguese-singing rappers and hip hop dancers produce their version of fado in “Marceneiro.”

For a few numbers, I leave a couple of impressions.  “Flor di Nha Esperança” is beautifully recorded in a one-shot sequence.  “Fado Flamenco” is an amalgam of, well, Fado and Flamenco, Portuguese and Spanish.  Mariza and Miguel Poveda sing beautifully the song entitled “Meu Fado Meu.”  “Casa de Fados” showcases a medley that hecklers may call a moping competition.  Despite not being able to sing their songs in completion, they do prove their talent.  The last sequence shows a cast practicing a dance number and crew cleaning the studio while Mariza’s “Ó Gente da Minha Terra” plays.  The camera pans across the stage showing equipment used in previous scenes.  The audience member scans the studio until he or she confronts a mirror and a reflection showing the camera’s own image.  When I see this sequence, I get surprised at first, because it breaks the unwritten rule that cameras should not record themselves.  The camera blatantly breaks this rule and adds itself as a character and a narrator.  When it focuses in on itself, I get this Sartrean fear of the Other’s gaze, leaving me with a feeling that I have been caught in a voyeuristic act.  The producing machine rebels against the human consumer.  The gate of the camera, like a sinister cousin of HAL 9000, sucks my soul into its abyss.  What is left in the abyss then fades out to black, completing the musical experience.  It is quite unnerving, but it makes for a great ending.

The extras on this DVD are few and short.  “The Making of Fados” shows performers and crew members giving compliments to their director and appreciation for the chance to work with him.  There are two theatrical trailers and a gallery of photos showing Saura in his work environment.  I am a little disappointed in the variety of extras, but I’ll take whatever information I can get.

There should be no problem for anyone watching this movie, aside from personal taste in music and dance.  Parents need not worry about anything vulgar, violent, or sexual to disturb their children’s entertainment.  It is quite family friendly.  It is as though you are taking your family to see a production of dance, song, and music at a local theater.

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