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One of the most important artists on the international film scene today, Portuguese director Pedro Costa has been steadily building an impressive body of work since the late eighties. And these are the three films that put him on the map: spare, painterly portraits of battered, largely immigrant lives in the slums of Fontainhas, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon. Hypnotic, controlled works, OSSOS, IN VANDA’S ROOM, and COLOSSAL YOUTH confirm Costa as a provocative new cinematic poet, one who locates beauty in the most unlikely of places.
OSSOS: The first film in Pedro Costa’s transformative trilogy about Fontainhas, an impoverished quarter of Lisbon, 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 shantytown in which they live. With its reserved, shadowy cinematography by Emmanuel Machuel (who collaborated with Bresson on L’argent), Ossos is a haunting look at a devastated community.
IN VANDA’S ROOM: For the extraordinarily beautiful second film in his Fontainhas trilogy, Pedro Costa jettisoned his earlier films’ larger crews 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 a handful of self-destructive, marginalized people, but is centered around the heroin-addicted Vanda Duarte. Costa presents the daily routines of Vanda and her neighbors with disarming matter-of-factness, and through his camera, individuals whom many would deem disposable become vivid and vital. This was Costa’s first use of digital video, and the evocative images he created remain some of the medium’s most astonishing.
COLOSSAL YOUTH: Many of the lost souls of Ossos and In Vanda’s Room return in the spectral landscape of Colossal Youth, which brings to Pedro Costa’s Fontainhas films a new theatrical, tragic grandeur. This time, Costa focuses on Ventura, an elderly immigrant from Cape Verde living in a low-cost housing complex in Lisbon, who has been abandoned by his wife and spends his days visiting his neighbors, whom he considers his “children.” What results is a form of ghost story, a tale of derelict, dispossessed people living in the past and present at the same time, filmed by Costa with empathy and startling radiance.