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Retrospectives: Pedro Costa and João César Monteiro

Pedro Costa (by Valèrie Massadian)
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18th New Horizons IFF: Two generations, two distinct styles, two prominent personalities of the Portuguese cinema.

Two generations, two distinct styles, two prominent personalities of the Portuguese cinema. Two authors who willingly chose the fringe, placing their works in complete opposition to the mainstream with all of its production, sales, and distribution system; and to the glamor, genre categories that make it easier for consumers to make choices, happy ends, and morals.

João César Monteiro (1939-2003) is one of the most eccentric, independent, and, at the same time, least recognized persons in the European cinema. The author of dark, perverse tales (Maria de Medeiros debuted in 1981's Silvestre) in which he exposed the violent foundations of collective imagination of the Portuguese nation. A melancholic immersed in the blue (the hypnotizing Flower of the Sea of 1986 features the young Teresa Villaverde who later became a film director). The creator of black 'divine' comedies where he played the João de Deus. Taking the name of the patron of fishermen, prostitutes, and mentally ill, the main character spends time in cheap bars, poor alleys, and hotels for hours, looking for fun and company of young girls. As a skinny fetishist, a clown, a home-grown philosopher, and bon vivant, João (Recollections of the Yellow House, God's Comedy, or Vai~E~Vem), challenges the church, the state and the family. With his bold choice of the profanum, he proves that this is the only way to find the glimpse of freedom and divinity, or, simply, of poetry. His Snow White (2000), inspired by Robert Walser's prose, is one of the most radical films in the history of cinema where the medium is tested to the limits - for most of the time, a black screen is shown, and the viewers listen to the voices coming off the screen.

I heard for the first time about this film from Pedro Costa (born 1959) who merges poetry with rock-music energy in his films. The radical choice the director makes in this film is to invert the rules of the cinema - Costa listens instead of telling, and lets his vision speak instead of forcing his own to the reality. Instead of invading the Fontainhas (the slums district where his famous trilogy was made: Bones, In Vanda's Room, Colossal Youth, 1997-2006) with trucks loaded with equipment and flashing blinding lights into the windows of flats that have no electricity, he understood that he wants to elicit the already existing, true, and hidden light from the people and places. The way Costa makes his films (with a small crew, using an amateur film camera, dealing with production and sales of his films by himself) is the demonstration of the political and ethical attitude towards the reality. Balancing between fiction and documentary and working with the same characters for years (Ventura and Vanda), this Portuguese director explores the colonial past of his country, conjures its ghosts, performs exorcisms, relieves, and cures. "I make films to forget", he convinces. As a vigilant observer of the lost youth (BloodBones), a loyal companion of immigrants, the excluded and invisible (Down to Earth, the trilogy, or Horse Money), Pedro Costa creates a space that his film characters can use to speak again and to shape it. The extraordinary picturesque beauty of the Costa's films is the natural beauty of the places where he sets his camera, being not only the creator, but also a medium for the reality. At present, Pedro Costa works on his new film titled Vitalina Varela in which he returns to Lisbon's Fontainhas district.

Małgorzata Sadowska

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