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Pedro Costa (#110 of 13)

Locarno Film Festival 2014 Horse Money, Los Ausentes, Alive, & More

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Locarno Film Festival 2014: Horse Money, Los Ausentes, Alive, Navajazo, & More
Locarno Film Festival 2014: Horse Money, Los Ausentes, Alive, Navajazo, & More

After dipping into relative, perhaps unavoidable mediocrity in the aftermath of the sublime formalist treats offered by Lav Diaz and Matías Piñeiro, the Locarno competition got back on track and then some with the arrival of Pedro Costa’s long-awaited Horse Money. This fourth feature-length installment of his ongoing Fontainhas series retains Colossal Youth’s heavy stylisation and rangy protagonist, Ventura, only to turn further inward. Grown old and unable to control his ever-twitching fingers, Ventura has been committed to a psychiatric facility, whose shadowy, spectral corridors double up as passages through the mind. These halls can lead anywhere—a snaking labyrinth whose endless connections bridge past and present, Portugal and Cape Verde, Fontainhas and the forest, a dilapidated factory, and a harshly lit elevator where all things flow together.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: The Last Time I Saw Macao

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>

Between Miguel Gomes’s dialectically structured Tabu and, even more radically, João Pedro Rodrigues’s thoroughly elliptical docudrama, The Last Time I Saw Macao, it would seem that hardlined formal rigor is alive and well in Portugal. Rodrigues, like his universally well-regarded national compatriot Pedro Costa before him, is rapidly establishing himself as one of the country’s most progressive, challenging filmmakers and cultural critics, and his latest effort should further his repute in a manner befitting its obliqueness; it follows its own clearly defined rules so closely that its theoretical appeal is precisely what will turn most audiences off. What one might described as an “observational drama” vaguely reminiscent of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, The Last Time I Saw Macoa distinguishes itself stylistically in two key regards. The first, inspired at least distantly by late-period Bresson, is to isolate both benign and propulsive action—from a conversation on the phone to a murder by the docks—and place it just outside the screen, so that what we see at any given moment is permanently removed from what’s actually happening, if only by a few degrees. And the second is that the protagonist of the story, and our direct surrogate in the environment, is never actually shown; because the camera alternates between explicit point-of-view shots and what are essentially travelogue-style snapshots of Macao, we see what he sees and what surrounds him, but never the man himself (his voiceover narration provides the film’s through line and very often serves an important explanatory as well as expository function).

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

There are simply too many amazing films—thousands, really—that could occupy every slot on this list just as confidently as the ones that are here. So I chose great ones that, whether or not it was the authors’ intent, protest the way systems, traditions and institutions threaten to break or trap individuals. Some celebrate how people manage to hold onto themselves or each other during the assault. Others dramatize defeat (see numbers five, six, nine, and 10). This quality in movies is more desperately needed right now and more enduring over time than such film critic checklist items as technical virtuosity and screenplay structure. The vast majority of people who watch movies are the ones who bear the yoke, and last century’s problem was too many films made to satisfy those who wield the whip. We, the people, are still stuck in that false reality of virtual freedom, every time we turn on the TV, click through a corporate banner ad, or look up and see more billboard than sky.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Low Life and Almayer’s Folly

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Low Life</em> and <em>Almayer’s Folly</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Low Life</em> and <em>Almayer’s Folly</em>

”…and may they hurry up, abandon the horrendous classist denomination of students and become young intellectuals…”—Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Apology”

If immigration has turned out to be the festival’s de facto theme, then surely Nicolas Klotz and Elizabeth Percival’s Low Life must be the film of the festival (though not of the year, that goes to Bertrand Bonello’s staggering House of Tolerance). A film that’s nearly as unfashionably direct in its romance and politics as Philippe Garrel’s That Summer, Low Life is many things—a study of the struggle of bourgeois youths to truly engage in revolutionary activity, a catalogue of the terrors wrought by Nicolas Sarkozy’s idiotic national identity, an excavation of the physical spaces where change must arise from, and a reminder that love and revolution are inextricable—and it does them all well.

Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2010: In a Better World and Gesher

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Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2010: <em>In a Better World</em> and <em>Gesher</em>
Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2010: <em>In a Better World</em> and <em>Gesher</em>

In a Better World is the sort of movie that wins the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. This isn’t a compliment. Susanne Bier’s new Danish-Swedish globalization thriller exposes conflicts between cultures, countries, classes, and cohorts, and then promptly resolves them all.

One boy feels neglected because his father’s still mourning his mother’s death; another kid cries lonesome because his father’s away at work. Dad #2’s a humanitarian worker in Kenya, where a fat, laughing, monstrous black warlord (dead eye, maggot-ridden leg) smacks his lips over a woman. Back home the kids, upset over being bullied, lash out by building a bomb. Everyone eventually realizes their mistakes. No good person hurts in a way that can’t be healed. All wounds dissolve within renewed family bonds.

“Violence begets violence,” Monsieur Verdoux said, quite rightly. The dominant theme I’ve been noticing in many of this year’s festival movies is hope for peace begetting peace. They’re anti-vengeance films in which social structures cause conflict rather than individual actors, and in which the solution is to work on the system.

Pedro Costa at PFA, Day 4: In Vanda’s Room

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Pedro Costa at PFA, Day 4: <em>In Vanda’s Room</em>
Pedro Costa at PFA, Day 4: <em>In Vanda’s Room</em>

I’m going to start by jumping ahead a day. During Pedro Costa’s Regents’ Lecture (on Sunday, March 9, 2008), he spoke of his film project in Fountaínhas as akin to James Agee and Walker Evans’sLet Us Now Praise Famous Men. Costa sees Vanda Duarte and her family (her neighborhood, her blood) as, if not equivalent, similar heroes to those three tenant families that Agee and Evans found, and lived with, in the cotton belt of Alabama. To those familiar with both works this rings as a perfect analogy; I, for one, see how Costa’s films inherit the burden of Agee’s words opening his “Book Two” volume:

Pedro Costa at PFA, Day 3: Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? & Sicilia! with “6 Bagatelas”

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Pedro Costa at PFA, Day 3: <em>Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?</em> & <em>Sicilia!</em> with “6 Bagatelas”
Pedro Costa at PFA, Day 3: <em>Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?</em> & <em>Sicilia!</em> with “6 Bagatelas”

“...Then one fine day you realize that it’s better to see as little as possible. You have a sort of reduction, only it’s not a reduction; it’s a concentration and it actually says more. But you don’t do this immediately from one day to the next! You need patience. A sigh can become a novel.” So says Jean-Marie Straub in Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? Logical that this film (centered in Pedro Costa’s oeuvre) delivers on Straub’s observation: originally planned as an episode of Cinéastes de notre temps and ostensibly a film about how Straub and his late wife Danièle Huillet edited pictures together, Smile builds something magical and immense from its miniature, material means. This is a film about film, of course, but it understands film as a conversation—about searching, about understanding—as an opportunity for philosophy, we might say—and how all these elements build a working picture of marriage, too. It’s Costa’s version of the romantic comedy. And it works.