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Carlos Saura • Director

Iberian Fado

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- Carlos Saura • Iberian Fado

Carlos Saura • Director

Carlos Saura, one of the leading figures of Spanish cinema for decades now, took on the challenge of making a film about Portugal's traditional song: the fado. Smartly enough, the 76-year old director chose the plural as a title, Fados [+see also:
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, assuming right from the credits a diverse and subjective approach to the theme.

Without offering straightforward pedagogical views on its musical origins and far from plot-oriented guidelines, Fados builds bridges between tradition and modernity, between Portugal, Brazil, Africa – and Spain – but it is less about what fado is and more about what it might become in this 21st century globalised world.

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Co-produced by Spain's Zebra Producciones and Portugal's Fado Filmes, the atypical music documentary became the second most seen local title at the 2007 Portuguese box office (over 30,000 admissions) and is set to open in over 80 territories worldwide throughout this year.

"It’s a different view of what one could expect. I wanted to expand the universe of fado. I did not want to get stuck to the idea of saudade [which, very roughly translated, means nostalgic longing], commonly linked to the more orthodox fado. That is why I took several liberties, such as introducing foreign artists and choreography in a type of music that is usually not danced," explains Saura.

These artists include, among others, Brazilian icons Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso, who perform alongside famous Portuguese fado singers such as Carlos do Carmo and Mariza, while the striking choreography was created by German-born dancer Patrick de Bana.

"Some of the names naturally imposed themselves,” says the director. “Young artists like Mariza and Camané are extraordinary. Caetano does a beautiful tribute to fado singer Amália Rodrigues and Mexico's Lila Downs sings the only fado with a clear narrative line in the all film. And that interested me because I could use it to tell a love story between two women and a man and to choreograph it. But so many other wonderful artists were left out…."

For Saura, a Spanish man doing a documentary on Portugal's typical song was "something daring" although the historic rivalry between the two countries no longer has any reason to exist. "Working with Portuguese artists in this film has been a marvellous experience. History has separated us but I don't think we are that far from each other anymore. I always thought that instead of Portugal and Spain, there should be an Iberian Republic, with several capitals: Madrid, Lisbon, Barcelona…. Am I going further than José Saramago?" he adds ironically, referring to the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner in Literature, who last year appealed for a union of the two countries.

If the two are now closer, what does Saura like the most in Portuguese cinema? "I don't really know it, to be honest, but I don't know Spanish cinema either. I guess I’m quite a busy man,” he jokes. “The thing is, I have never been a great film lover. I make films but I started out as a photographer, which I still am. Many years ago, I was preparing a photography book about Spain and then I began to think I should have made a documentary. Photos had no life, they didn't move, there was no sound on them, they didn't dance. So I started doing documentaries and then fiction…. It was a very logical process, I suppose, but I have never been a great film lover.”

With the passing of the years and growing international acclaim, Saura began mixing genres – fiction, documentary, musicals – and Fados maintains a visual style similar to some of his previous music-related titles. It was shot in-studio with a strong theatrical aesthetic, which includes games with mirrors and screen projections.

Says Saura: “[DoP] Eduardo Serra filmed some sequences in Lisbon, but we only used them in projections. The rest was all filmed in a studio in Madrid – the one I chose to show in the last sequence. Filming in a studio is an option that I've taken for years. In this particular case, I wanted to eliminate every exterior sound, like street noise for instance, so that the musical effect was the best it could be. It was also about removing artists from their natural environments and placing them in a different one, so that they could create something new. And, above all, I like the idea of creating a theatrical atmosphere inside a film. It can be seen as something strange, but I should look for new directions."

The director’s new project, Io, Don Giovanni, has been partially shot and he is now waiting for funds in order to finish principal photography. Co-produced by three European countries and backed by Eurimages, the film features the same aesthetics as its predecessor although its music-related theme is sprinkled with biopic elements.

"It’s based on the life of Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart's librettist on Don Giovanni,” concludes Saura, “who was quite an interesting fellow. He was a Jew who converted to Catholicism, a friend of Casanova’s and a bon vivant very much fond of drinking. He was thrown out of Venice and ended up in Vienna, where he collaborated with Mozart on three operas. Again, we have rebuilt Venice in-studio and we will also recreate Vienna indoors. I want to avoid a very realistic type of cinema, which I think it's incredibly boring.”

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