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Pedro Costa’s The Fontaínhas Trilogy

Pedro Costa’s Horse Money

To celebrate the UK release of Pedro Costa’s Horse Money, we present these important features as an introduction to the modern master’s cinematic world.

The precursors to Pedro Costa’s latest cinematic enigma, Horse Money, form the unofficial Fontaínhas Trilogy: Ossos (1997), In Vanda’s Room (2000) and Colossal Youth (2006). These three films – spare, hypnotic, painterly portraits of battered, largely immigrant lives in the slums of Fontaínhas, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Lisbon – confirmed Costa as a provocative cinematic poet, one who locates beauty in the most unlikely of places.

Near the end of the emotionally and physically trying shoot of Casa De Lava (1994), a handful of Cape Verdeans asked Costa to deliver bundles of letters to their émigré relatives in Lisbon. Fontaínhas, the marginalised ghetto where he found many of those letters’ addressees, would become the geographical and spiritual centre of his next three films.


Ossos

Portugal 1997. 94 mins. Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole with English subtitles.

Ossos is a tale of young lives torn apart by desperation. After a suicidal teenage girl gives birth, she misguidedly entrusts her baby’s safety to the troubled, deadbeat father, whose violent actions take the viewer on a tour of the foreboding, crumbling shanty town in which they live.

With its reserved, shadowy cinematography by Emmanuel Machuel (who photographed Bresson’s L’Argent), Ossos is a haunting look at a devastated community.

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In Vanda’s Room

Portugal 2000. 170 mins. Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole with English subtitles.

In Vanda’s Room, which Costa made with a two-person crew and in close collaboration with the movie’s handful of non-professional actors, is a landmark in modern cinema.

For the extraordinarily beautiful second film in his Fontaínhas Trilogy, Costa jettisoned his earlier films’ larger crews, and shot on digital instead of film for the first time, to burrow even deeper into the Lisbon ghetto and the lives of its desperate inhabitants.

With the intimate feel of a documentary and the texture of a Vermeer painting, In Vanda’s Room takes an unflinching, fragmentary look at the life of heroin-addicted Vanda Duarte. A seamless convergence of fiction and real life, it presents the daily routines of Vanda and her neighbours with disarming matter-of-factness, and through Costa’s camera, individuals whom many would deem disposable become vivid and vital.

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Colossal Youth

 Portugal 2006. 155 mins. Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole with English subtitles.

Many of the lost souls of Ossos and In Vanda’s Room return in the spectral landscape of Colossal

Youth, which brings to Costa’s Fontaínhas films a new theatrical, tragic grandeur.

An intimate epic in which present and past move as one, Colossal Youth chronicles Ventura, the towering Cape Verdean who has assumed the role of surrogate father to an untold number of characters around Lisbon and its now-destroyed neighbourhood of Fontaínhas.

Through Ventura’s ghost-like visitations to figures such as Vanda Duarte (the central personage of In Vanda’s Room), and repeated recollections of Ventura’s past life as a newly migrated manual labourer, Costa explores the nature and necessity of storytelling in the course of the human adventure. Colossal Youth lays bare the residence of documentary inside fiction (and vice versa), using an aesthetic in which every single image resonates with an indescribably poetic and rarefied force.

A tale of derelict, dispossessed people living in the past and present at the same time, filmed by Costa with empathy and startling radiance, Colossal Youth is one of his most sublime achievements.

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Pedro Costa’s New Film

Horse Money

Portugal 2014. 105 mins. Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole with English subtitles.

This film follows Ventura – the enigmatic lead of Costa’s earlier groundbreaking film, Colossal Youth – as he traverses a seemingly endless night populated by the ghosts of his, and his country’s, past. From the restless spirits that haunt this decaying urban landscape, Costa conjures a spellbinding and unclassifiable cinematic experience.

Winner of the Best Director prize at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival, and already featured in many worldwide critics’ Top Ten Films Of 2014 lists, Horse Money is a hauntingly beautiful contemplation of Portugal’s tumultuous past and uncertain future from one of the true poets of contemporary European cinema.

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