Fado is the distinctly Portuguese musical tradition of balladeering: often (but not always) melancholy tunes about unrequited love, loss, unrequited-love-lost and Lisbon, trilled against a gently weeping guitar and mandolin backup. A good analogy for the prominence, cultural distinction and versatility of fado music would be the blues.
In Fados, eminent Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura pays non-narrative tribute to the genre and its practitioners. As with Saura's earlier Flamenco, this is no PBS documentary, but rather a total-immersion experience in the art, with a series of fado song-and-dance numbers, performed on a simple yet spectacular stage festooned with vividly colored scrims and screens with apt projected images.
Fadistas of all ages perform — including recent PlayhouseSquare guest Mariza — with some of the departed greats represented in archival clips (no Fado for Dummies captions or liner notes; I think I recognized the legendary Amália Rodrigues, but don't ask me who the dude in the Roy Orbison glasses was).
For non-Portuguese viewers who mainly associate Maltese crosses with Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, Fados can be a cryptic but also a passionate, sensual and exhilarating experience, with a climactic "Casa di Fados" sequence a standout, as a mockup café of vocalists each take their turn in a sort of melodious dialogue. As with the blues, fado is adaptable indeed, and one is struck by the Pete Seeger-like tone of a fado political-protest song and an interesting attempt to blend fado and hip-hop in tribute to a street poet.