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TSPDT 2013: Colossal Youth

Posted by martinteller on February 22, 2013

Pedro Costa returns once again to Fontainhas, which is now nearly deserted, most of its residents having been relocated to government housing.  Ventura — a tall, lanky Cape Verde immigrant — makes the rounds to visit his “children” (none of whom are actually his offspring, except possibly one) who are scattered around Lisbon.  He tells them that their “mother”, Clotilde, has left him.  He shares stories with them, they share stories with him.  He reluctantly accepts public housing, but mostly chooses to spend his days in his Fontainhas home, trying to hold on to a past that is slipping away.

Although a shorter film than In Vanda’s Room, I found this one a little tougher to get through.  Perhaps the junkie lifestyle of Vanda and her cohorts is more “exciting” in a dramatic sense.  Applying the word “exciting” to a Costa film is stretching it by any definition… maybe I should say more compelling.  Ventura has a commanding presence, with his intense but compassionate stare.  But all the elements here, including the performances, are so minimalist and restrained that it requires a very contemplative mood from the viewer.

But the stories told are interesting, and the film seems to me about preserving culture and community through an oral history.  Ventura’s friend Lento asks him to compose a love letter.  Instead of writing it, however, Ventura repeats it to Lento every time he sees him, expanding on it a little more each time.  It becomes a mantra throughout the film.  Other forms of oral history range from the mundane (recounting past jobs) to the personal (the delivery of a child) to hardship (a man who set his apartment on fire and made his family jump out the window).  Ventura is trying to keep both Fontainhas and Cape Verde alive.  The walls of the Fontainhas shacks may be grubby, but they tell stories which are lacking in the clean white walls of the government housing.

Vanda is back, off of drugs and raising her little girl (a man is occasionally there, who may or may not be her husband).  It’s wonderful to see her again, looking healthier with some meat on her bones and taking care of that awful cough with an inhaler.  Her sister, Zita, unfortunately, did not make it.

The compositions are beautiful and striking, with natural lighting and sublime study of how people occupy space.  While the narrative content is often too sparse to hold on to, you can get lost in the meditative imagery and textures.  Rating: Good (74)


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