21 March 2008 | JuguAbraham
Direction upstages the endearing song and singer
Seventy-six year young Carlos Saura charmed film lovers with several melancholic dance, music and song styles: Flamenco in "Flamenco" (1995), "Blood Wedding" (1981) and "Sevillanas" (1992), tango in "Tango" (1998), and finally, opera and flamenco in "Carmen" (1983). Then comes his latest film "Fados," a heady mix of dance and melancholic Portuguese folk song rendered by mesmerizing singers such as Mariza and Carlos do Carmos
If you thought as I had, that I had seen all that the wizened genius from Spain could do, you will be pleasantly surprised. "Fados" is undoubtedly one of his finest filmsforget the music, forget the song, forget the singers (if you possibly can!) and enjoy the art of fine direction.
I am forced to recall the US film "Woodstock" (1970). Millions would remember that wonderful film, but few would recall its director Michael Wadleigh. The gifted Wadleigh not only directed the fascinating documentary film, he was one of the cinematographers and one of the editors of the film. His assistant film director for the film was Martin Scorsese! If you enjoyed "Woodstock's" groundbreaking editing, it is important to note that Wadleigh's editing collaborator was Thelma Schoonmaker, who has edited each and every Scorsese movie since 1980. Now why am I writing about "Woodstock" instead of "Fados"? It is because like "Woodstock," "Fados" is very likely going to be discussed in years to come for its endearing music, song and dance, bypassing its vibrant cinematic ingredients.
The first few minutes into the film introduce you to breathtaking effect of the cinema of "Fados". You have shadows of live individuals walking as they do on a street (you do not see them under direct light). These shadows fall on a screen where another film image is projected. As the opening credits roll, you realize you are being seduced by the kinetic images. And even up to the final shot of the film, you realize that you are under the spell of creative use of shadows, images, mirrors, projection screens and shiny reflecting dance floors. The final shot is of the film camera lens, which is the appropriate mainstay of the filmnot the music, song and dance, which merely provides the subject for the director. Even the English subtitles were aesthetically placed in the left corner of the frame, so that the beauty of each shot is maximized for the viewer.
Saura has a great ear for music. No wonder he made all these movies on music, song and dance. Go back in history, and you will recall his most famous film, "Cria cuervos (cry ravens)" (1975) featured a song called "Porque te vas (Because you are leaving)" sung by an American singer called Janette who was living at that time in Spain. The song had been released by the singer earlier but few took note of it. After Saura's film won honors at Cannes, Janette's song soared in popularity and became a worldwide hit. (Somewhat like Antonioni's boost to Pink Floyd in "Zabriskie Point", even though Pink Floyd was arguably quite famous by the time of film's release) That was unfortunately the career high for the singer. Today, some 30 years after I saw "Cria cuervos" during a Saura retrospective in New Delhi, the notes of the song ring in my ear. "Fados", like "Cria cuervos", is a delight for those who can appreciate good music.
In Saura's "Fados", achievements are many. The film is entirely made on a set, eliminating extraneous sounds such as street noise. The Portuguese icons of song come to Spain to film the scenesa clever canvas of light and shadows, dance and song, mirrors and projection screens that recall the brilliance of another of my favorite documentary filmsHans Jurgen Syberberg's "Hitler--a film from Germany". Like all Saura's films there is some politics at playhis work is a cry for Iberian unity between two neighboring nations that never trusted each other historically. In an interview Saura stated that he was deliberately removing artists from their natural surroundings so that they could create "something new". To Saura watchers, he is continuing his favorite exploration merging theater and film, without being hemmed in by the boundaries of a written play.