- Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela is one of the most visually accomplished films of the of the 2010’s.
- With Horse Money in 2014 he shifted to higher definition video photography (Vitalina is pristine – immaculately crisp), this sort of sullen surrealism and structured control in the performances and mise-en-scene. These are drastic changes from the fuzzy-pixelated, observed-reality docudrama style of In Vanda’s Room and Colossal Youth. The subject (immigrants from Cape Verde to Lisbon- the Fontainas section– immense suffering and poverty) is the same, but the approach is very different. Vitalina Varela goes even farther than Horse Money in design and breathtaking beauty—truly a collection of cinematic paintings.
- Starts with an elegant stark dark alley—a fixed camera holds on these grey walls with a graveyard above as mourners in black dress pass in a line (almost like zombies- I’ve noted Dreyer’s Vampyr feels like an important text to Costa)
- Costa’s work here is an elegy– Vitalina Varela (a character in Horse Money) arrives – it is her husband that has passed
- Distressed wallpaper, dilapidated buildings, graffiti—it is all meticulously calculated and detailed. Again, this is no longer a docudrama (though characters still carry their own name)—this is Roy Andersson (there is even a man distraught on the ground in pain posing), Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Ming-liang Tsai
- A gorgeous composition at the 12-minute mark with the airline workers staggered throughout the frame as Vitalina Varela arrives in Portugal – this is the first real dialogue in the film (characters are really speaking to themselves when they do speak)—13-minutes in the title drops.
- The only time Costa uses daylight is in the flashbacks (memory and regret are a big part of both this film and Horse Money)— when Vitalina Varela and her husband were young and in Cape Verde
- A Masterpiece — above I’ve mentioned a half-dozen or more auteurs for some comparison but Costa’s triumph here is as distinctive as it is impressive – a true auteur
It’s a shame Vitalina Varela(2019) and Horse Money(2014) aren’t globally known like other international films like Burning,Portrait of a Lady on fire etc.
I’ll have to track this down. Good Lord, with every passing day 2019 looks more and more like one of the greatest years in cinema history.
@Matt Harris- found this one on on criterion channel if you have it– but I do believe it is available in elsewhere. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And yes- I still have some work to do on 2020 films (checking off a few per week) but as of today’s date I think I’d take the 11-20 best films of 2019 over 1-10 of 2020
Have you seen Roman Polanski’s latest film An Officer and a Spy? It was released in 2019 as well. Very good film.
@Malith- I have not yet- I’m looking forward to it
This is truly a cinematic ritual. The roof scene with the skies of the night… ravishing. It reaches the grandeur of a John Ford… And finally, in the end, when the apocalyptic blackness disappears and gives place to the elegant glow of the daylight… It’s truly a catharsis, pure transcendence. Because the film is optimistic. “If there’s love things will work out” Vitalina says. It’s truly a religious experience. It reaches unimaginable heights. A monumental masterpiece.
So you’ve talked about how you were mostly unimpressed with Costa’s work up to this point (though you think Horse Money is great – a HR/MS), then you get to this film and it’s a MP. How much did it surprise you that Costa was capable of a film this excellent?
@Zane- yeah I was pleasantly surprised. There were flashes of it in Horse Money for sure so I wasn’t completely taken off guard. But if you’ve seen Vitalina Varela it starts off so strong.
I’ve always found Costa to be an intriguing figure. Good to know Vitalina Varela has converted you to some extent. Admittedly, I have yet to get to this film, or rather I watched part of it a while ago and never managed to get around to watching the rest of it. I may even watch this tonight in fact. But yes, that elevator scene in Horse Money is a slog.
@Remy- Thanks for the comment. I don’t know if I would call myself a convert. I think, simply, that Vitalina Varela is easily his best work.
I’m going to create an experimental arthouse film that is just this with a black-and-white filter applied to every single shot in the film.
I suppose Costa didn’t think Gertrud was Gertrud enough?
[…] Vitalina Varela – Costa […]