The Portuguese music genre known as Fado, originated sometime in the early 18th century. Though it follows distinctive musical traits, its music is tied together by thematic concerns, often depicting scenes of fatalism and destiny – and often in a sorrowful way. The same feeling of inevitability seems to loom over Jonas Roethlaender fiction feature debut, making its title Fado, quite appropriate. But the film is not so much driven by sorrow, but by a focused and strained atmosphere and mood depicting and revolving around jealousy and a deeply unsettling study of obsessive love and pathological state of mind.
Possessiveness and jealousy in particular is what seems to have led a young doctor Fabian (Golo Euler) to move from Berlin to Lisbon, to win his girlfriend, Doro (Luise Heyer), back. No moment between them is particularly romantic, at least not in a noteworthy way, despite them deciding to give their relationship a second chance. From early on, we are introduced to Fabian’s jealousy in a way that makes it anything but obvious. The blending of reality and obsessively constructed imagination is taken to the screen so organically that it is indeed difficult to distinguish the too. This approach opts to disorientate the viewer and is willfully sought. Furthermore, it is an approach never gets out of hand, because the pacing of the film, nightmarishly fluid (even fluidity is visually represented by the prominence of water on screen, coinciding with another prominent theme in the music genre it references in the title), a sign of the command of its filmmaker.
This pacing also enhances the feeling of inevitability, which constantly remains looming over its storyline. There are no prizes for guessing the outcome of the pivotal “romance,” also because Doro’s wish to be with Fabian is not convincing and her equally as meaningful desire for independence is just as evident. Likewise, Fabian’s “unhealthy” thoughts translating in the form of constant passive aggressiveness is obviously frustrating.
Precisely where the film’s strength lies is in the representation of this passive aggressiveness, which dominates the very nature of Fado, due to its viewpoint being dominated almost entirely by Fabian. Nevertheless, he remains a quietly enigmatic figure. Despite his overbearing fantasies, mostly revolving around a parallel sex-life of Doro’s, his calm and all too nice behaviour conceals the negative charge of his thoughts worryingly and convincingly. All the while, as the film builds up to its quick, fateful finale, we have this impression that part of his pathology is a result of his introverted nature and fundamental loneliness. He has not only idealized Doro – he has become unable to tell the difference between the real life Doro from her fantasized, unscrupulous equivalent, because he has allowed to let his life and his world as a stranger in a strange-land (an alienated Berlin doctor in Lisbon) revolve around her. This raises another theme that is just as important: the contrast between independence and interdependence.
In recent years, jealousy, obsessive love and other themes present in Fado have been represented by other films. Some of these films, such as Love or Stubborn, successfully set themselves aside from others through, through their definitive style. (While Love is constructed upon Gaspar Noe’s opiate excesses, Stubborn by Armel Hostiou is a throwback to 60’s French New Wave cinema gritty improvisation.). Fado is commendable for its style, but this is not the thing that distinguishes it. Neither is its narrative where its originality lies. Roethlander’s film is psychologically daunting for its confident portrayal of controlled internal chaos and the dangers of losing the balance between the many subtle and meaningful contrasts it presents – even sexuality is split between romantic and pornographic. It is not a particularly violent film, neither is it a particularly melodramatic. Yet, it is both. The film is as much Fabian’s conceptual alter-ego as Fabian is the director of his own jealousy induced film in his own head. This is why, in film form, there is no need for Fado to define what is real and what isn’t. As a viewing experience, it welcomes a cinematic interaction with its viewer, while maintaining a distance between the viewer and the main character that allows a type of disturbing investment in its plot developments.