Criterion Sunday 508: “Letters from Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa”

Like the recent boxset on Rossellini’s War Trilogy, this trilogy of films by Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa also have a documentary quality, being set in ruined areas dealing with broken people trying to put their lives together, and largely using non-professional actors and people found in the location. That said, Costa’s style is far more deliberate and carefully-composed I think, and there’s a hue to the haunting, chiaroscuro images that recalls contemporary art gallery work. Here, Costa’s figures struggle to make themselves seen in the half-light of the settings in the downtrodden neighbourhood of Fontainhas in Lisbon, as stories of migrants from former colonial possessions and those cast off by society criss-cross in these films. All three feature some of Costa’s most favoured non-actors, like Vanda Duarte in the first two, Ossos (1997) and In Vanda’s Room (2000), and the mononymous Ventura in the third, Colossal Youth (2006), an actor with whom he has continued to work in more recent features like Horse Money and Vitalina Varela.

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