Twenty-five years ago, Vitalina Varela's husband ran off to make money in Portugal and left her alone in a former Portuguese colony, the island of Cape Verde. In 2013, Vitalina arrives in Lisbon looking for him, only to find out that he had died three days earlier. The bleak otherworldly drama by Pedro Costa received a Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 2019.
In the thirty years of his career in film, Costa has developed his own language and filming method that he brought to perfection in the semi-documentary trilogy about the impoverished and now demolished shantytown of Fontaínhas, which included Ossos (1997), In Vanda's Room (2000), and Colossal Youth (2006). The trilogy centered on the heroin addict Vanda Duarte and other shantytown characters was based on stories of real people, which Costa mixed with fictional elements. Improvisation and collaborations with non-professional actors who played fictionalized versions of themselves created a socially engaged cinema that transformed its actors, as well as the filmmaker himself and the audiences.
Like the Fontaínhas trilogy, Vitalina Varela is not a readymade work but a lived process. Rejecting an anthropological stance that implies a certain distancing of the author from the protagonist, Costa mourns and heals with Vitalina: the visuals inspired by the Dutch Golden Age make a tediously yet fascinatingly slow transition from shadows and exquisite chiaroscuro to bright sunlight. Costa's Rembrandt-esque portrayal of the Lisbon shantytowns could be mistaken for an anesthetization of poverty had he and the cinematographer Leonardo Simões not imbued Vitalina's character with such dignity.
The film is in Cape Verdean Creole with Russian subtitles.
Director: Pedro Costa
Portugal, 2019. 124 min. 16+