Posted by: Sally Ingraham | June 19, 2009

Flamenco, Tango, Fados

1995, 1998, 2007 – Dir. Carlos Saura

fadosWe played Fados at Reel Pizza Cinerama a few weeks ago, and one of my friends and co-workers watched it three times. I joined her for the second round on the night she watched it twice in a row, and could easily understand her obsession. It is a beautiful movie. In a series of musical numbers Saura explores the origin of Fados, a Portuguese style of singing with African and Brazilian roots. Using mirrors, lighting effects, backdrops, and dancers he weaves a vibrant fusion of song, movement, and history. The effect is mesmerizing.

The style of singing is very crisp – absolutely lovely voices hitting notes with ringing clarity. The singers seemed more than usually like an instrument to me – their entire bodies seemed to be pouring forth song. There were homages to faudistas legends like Maria Severa and Amália Rodrigues, as well as performances by modern stars like Mariza and Camané (none of whom I’d ever heard of before this, but who I will be looking into in the future!) There was also a mixture of other styles such as hip-hop, flamenco, and reggae which pointed out the incredible exchange of ideas and influences that makes music so exciting.

Just talking about Fados makes me want to watch it again. Hopefully it will be released onto DVD in the US soon… Until then there are tons of clips available on uTube!

tangoMy friend and I watched Tango about a week before we saw Fados. I thought it was the first in the series, but actually Flamenco was made several years before. It was released on DVD later, however, and Tango is the movie that got a lot of publicity due to Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Of the three films it is the only one that has a plot driven format. Set in Buenos Aires, it centers on Mario Suarez, a middle-aged theater director who is still recovering from a bad break-up. He is working on a musical about tango. While he tries to get over his feelings for his ex-girlfriend (who is also his principle dancer…) and enjoy an affair with another beautiful dancer (who has a possessive boyfriend of her own) we get to watch a lot of fabulous tango sequences and enjoy some really creative cinematography. Reality and the story in the musical sometimes blend in intriguing ways. I didn’t particularly care for the plot of the film, but the dancing more than made up for it, and Vittorio Storaro’s camera and lighting work was stunning.

flamencoWe finally got to watch Flamenco last night. Of the three it was my least favorite, which surprised me because I was SO excited for the dancing, flamenco being one of my favorite forms. The film did and excellent job of showing the variety of flamenco rhythms, and bringing out it’s Indian, Greek, Romany, and even Jewish influences. The entire musical genre was examined – the style of singing, dance, and guitar playing. The dancing was thrilling, no doubt about it, and some of the guitar solos were absolutely amazing. However, I didn’t care for the style of singing. An astonishing degree of passion was portrayed, but the harsh anguish that made every singer’s voice grating and rough and nasally was not to my taste. Still, on a whole the movie was fascinating, and the intense inclusive circles of family and community groups all participating in make the music was wonderful. You really got a sense that this type of music was being passed down with a great deal of respect and joy. My favorite part was when an old man and a young boy were dancing together – the boy lithe and full of energy, the old man slower but still full of light-footed grace.

I definitely recommend all of these films to anyone who loves music and dance, and also interesting cinematic techniques. Carlos Saura has been making films since the 50s, and I guarantee that I’ll be tracking a few more of his down. I’ll keep you posted! 🙂


  1. Wow, I should definitely check these out. I’d only heard about Tango before, and something about its plot was a turnoff for me. But Fados sounds fantastic. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I definitely had a little trouble with the plot of “Tango”. It annoyed me on several levels. But the dancing was great! I hope you enjoy these. 🙂

  3. Wonderful review, Sarah! I’ve only seen “Flamenco,” which I loved, out of the three movies you mention, but I have a VHS copy of “Tango” sitting around sent to me by my folks a few years back. I guess I should make some time to watch that one of these days. And I didn’t know “Fados” was out here already, so I’m extremely jealous you’ve seen it on the big screen! I’m not keen on all of Saura’s stuff (I’ve seen at least two duds by him so far), but his “Cría cuervos” (now available on a Criterion DVD) is one of my favorite films ever. I hope you get a chance to see it soon if you haven’t already because it’s really something special. Cheers!

  4. Thanks for the recommendation Richard – I’ll definitely look for “Cria Cuervois”. I’ve also seen “Blood Wedding” recently, which was interesting but not incredibly so. Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography definitely adds a lot. I hope you get to “Fados” soon!

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