Criterion Sunday 510: No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room, 2000)

As a film this is certainly a follow-up to Pedro Costa’s 1997 film Ossos, sharing a lot of the same characters (or maybe they’re real life figures: the term “docufiction” is applied and it’s impossible to know where the boundaries lie), and stylistically we have all these dark, derelict spaces beautifully framed and lit, captured by Costa’s camera, largely fixed in place. However, it’s also quite different, not just in taking in an expansive running time, but in embracing then relatively new digital video technology. There’s a notable degradation to the image compared to Ossos, but this is formally matched to the setting, which itself is a rough, broken area of housing being literally torn down as we watch and as these characters try to live their lives. Drugs are a major part of coping, and watching Vanda and her friends shooting up, sniffing and otherwise ingesting drugs is part of the texture of the film, not a moral lesson so much as just a throughline to their misery. Not much happens in some senses, and this is where watching on a big screen, in the captive experience of a cinema, would undoubtedly have improved it for me. As it was, my attention strayed but never for too long, and Costa proves himself adept at capturing something remarkable about these lives.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer/Cinematographer Pedro Costa; Starring Vanda Duarte; Length 171 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), Wellington, Saturday 26 February 2022.

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