Panorama | Vanguard
Widely hailed as one of the most formally inventive directors of our time, Portuguese master Pedro Costa (Horse Money, VIFF 14) has made his name telling tragic tales from Lisbon’s impoverished Fontainhas district. Concerning a Cape Verdean woman who arrives in these quarters 25 years after her husband, only to learn that he has recently died, Vitalina Varela may go down as one of Costa’s most spellbinding works.
The cavernous walkways and derelict interiors of this film’s milieu also featured prominently in the director’s 2006 masterpiece, Colossal Youth, which chronicled one man’s attempt to save his home from demolition. That man was Ventura, who appears here as a disturbed priest, a keeper of this region’s forgotten stories, and a guide to Vitalina through this purgatorial realm.
While Colossal Youth captured, in startling documentary detail, the transformation of a community as its residents were forcibly relocated, Vitalina Varela inhabits a place seemingly between the subjective mind of its protagonist and the real spaces of this particular neighbourhood. Another important, telling difference between these standalone pieces: whereas that first film took place almost entirely during the day, this one is nocturnal - a long, dark night of the soul, appropriately rendered in evocative shades of black.
"Staking its claim to a place in the pantheon of films that share a namesake with their female protagonist, Costa’s new film is a plaintive and piercingly beautiful vision from a dimension that, at least as far as this critic is concerned, is far removed from the world of contemporary cinema." - Christopher Small, Sight & Sound
Golden Leopard, Best Actress, Locarno 19