co-presented by ACROPOLIS CINEMA

2019 / drama / 2h 4min / directed by Pedro Costa /
country: Portugal / language: Portuguese / subtitles: English

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* * Ceases to stream Midnight, Sunday (May 31st)

Vitalina Varela takes its title from the name of its lead actress, a Cape Verdean woman who, as per usual with Costa’s non-professional actors, plays a fictionalized version of herself. Vitalina first appeared in an episode in the director’s previous film, Horse Money (Wavelengths 2015), wherein she recounted how her husband had left their homeland nearly 25 years ago to work in Lisbon – a separation that became permanent when she finally arrived on the continent, three days after his funeral. In Vitalina Varela, Costa refracts and expands that episode to place us firmly within his heroine’s stoic point of view, capturing her extraordinary strength and resilience as she navigates the scanty physical traces her husband left behind, discovers his secret, illicit life, and encounters the other lives that darken the shadows of the Fontainhas that once was. –TIFF

“Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson in just how far a strict adherence to formalism over narrative structure can be taken, yet for cinephiles less bewitched by the way he creates vacuums between characters, and his insistent reliance on rigidly composed images to generate intellectualized emotions, his works are distancing and cold. “Vitalina Varela” will create animated debate between the uneven camps, and for those less inclined toward Costa’s brand of cinema, only the powerful screen presence of the lead, whose life story this is, saves this punishingly dark work from drowning in its own purposeful opacity.” –Jay Weissberg, Variety

“The Portuguese director conjures dark, dreamlike visions of post-colonial neglect and yearning that hover somewhere between fantasy and neorealism, horror and melodrama, spirituality and desperation . . . The Costa Expanded Universe stems back to 2006’s “Colossal Youth,” when Costa first began exploring the Cape Verdean residents of Fontainhas by casting members of the immigrant community as themselves. Costa’s ravishing blend of light and shadow captures the characters as they wander the claustrophobic interiors of their ramshackle homes and muse about their wandering lives. Costa’s dour, humorless aesthetic takes time to settle in and certainly requires a degree of openness to his approach, but “Vitalina Varela” is a perfect distillation of the rewarding nature of that process.” –Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Click for more from Pedro Costa from International Film Festival Rotterdam

Click for a taste of Pedro Costa’s taste in music via Film Comment

Click for The Film Comment Podcast: Pedro Costa on Vitalina Varela

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