Saturday, September 12, 2015

Pedro Costa's new film "Horse Money" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Sept 18 - 24

There's reason why in their selection of his Fontainhas Trilogy for deluxe box set treatment, the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director has no lack of champions. At the time of the trilogy's completion he was honored with retrospectives at both the Tate Modern and Anthology Film Archives, and most recently, New York’s Lincoln Center. This came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment. The Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience, describes the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work: the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his art's moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically, the predominantly Cape Verdean immigrants that populated their unlit labyrinths disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. In his interview for Film Comment he describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon also prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began refining his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view.

Costa turned to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy. It was in part from this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th Century masters, among them Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, and Jacques Tourneur, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films: they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides and literal underworld depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as well as the Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. Who was last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" takes a particularly oneiric passage. The reviews from it's premier at the Locarno Film Festival where it won best director, described this "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, as a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review for Film Comment and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city representing disparate periods of his life. From the youthful Cape Verdean immigrant picked up by the Portuguese revolutionary army in the hillsides. To the now shaking hand, grey-haired man in his later years, ascending from below the earth to wander the corridors of a hollow institutional facility. Drifting through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.