One of the most revered filmmakers in all of global cinema, Pedro Costa has spent thirty years telling stories focused on the residents and communities of Fountainhas, a now demolished area on the outskirts of Lisbon that once provided a home for Portugal’s Cape Verde immigrant population. In Vitalina Varela, which won the prestigious Golden Leopard at last year’s Locarno Film Festival, he returns with what might be his defining masterpiece.
A potent, painterly exploration of longing, isolation, memory and diasporic trauma, Costa’s portrait of Varela (who also appeared in his 2014 film Horse Money) is, like his previous work, a mixture of reality and reverie, documentary and fiction.
Arriving in Portugal 30 years after her husband left to seek work as a bricklayer in Lisbon, Vitalina is shocked to discover that he has died just three days before her arrival. Shut away and isolated in his small shack on the outskirts of the city, she begins to hallucinate (or should that be conjure?) figures and incidents from her past, which mix with the comings and goings of the neighbourhood, in a clash of past and present, and of old world and new.
With extraordinary cinematography and sound design, Vitalina Varela is one of the most immersive, visually ravishing films of the year, its exploration of dreams, memory and the hard reality of life in the barrio creating a unique blend of humane character drama, a plea for society’s dispossessed, and one of the most exceptional pieces of film art of the past decade.
With thanks to Second Run