Saura’s Fados

‘The Choreography of Longing: Songs, Screens and Space in Carlos Saura’s Fados’, Quaderns de Cine 9 (2014): 71-8.

Carlos Saura’s 2007 film Fados follows the director’s earlier works Flamenco (1995) and Tango (1998) by showing musicians performing a vernacular music genre while accompanied by dancers. This approach to Portugal’s ‘national music’ attracted consternation from fans of the genre due to the fact that, unlike flamenco and tango, fado does not have an associated dance form. For some commentators, Saura also took liberties by including a number of musicians from outside Portugal (including Spain, Africa and Latin America) and mixing traditional fado forms with other music genres (including rock, hip hop and Cape Verdean morna).

Despite these potential distractions, Saura seems keen to depict the history of fado from its tangled roots to its present position as an urban folk music par excellence, a music that both evokes and inhabits the contemporary Portuguese city (in particular, the city of Lisbon). Through evocative use of light and shadow, Saura offers up a series of highly ‘photographic’ scenes in which fado’s poetics of urban haunting are made prominent. Therefore, rather than critiquing the director for his ‘inauthentic’ depiction of fado, I respond to Saura’s provocation by considering his film as a strategy for setting fado’s poetics of time, space and history in a new light. Taking a cue from the use of choreography and urban tableaux in the film, I offer a spatial reading of Fados that draws upon the work of Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre. I argue that the film makes visible a ‘production of space’ that complements existing fado mythography.

A pre-publication draft of this essay is available here.

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