In Pedro Costa’s VITALINA VARELA—a masterpiece of stark beauty and majestic grace—our first glimpse of the title character is of her bare feet descending the ramp stairs of an airplane, a night flight just arrived at Lisbon airport from Africa. She is greeted with an embrace by Marina, who whispers into her ear…

“Vitalina. My condolences. You arrived too late. Your husband was buried three days ago. Here in Portugal there is nothing for you. His house is not yours. Go back home.”

I decided we would lock ourselves up in this small, dark house and do the work. So it took a while to convince me that maybe we could do it, that [Vitalina] could perhaps go through this ordeal, and I could perhaps film it. This was a bit more difficult than the other films—not because she wasn’t getting there, or not wanting to work, but because of me. How can I explain… Even if I insist that everything is true and real, this story is still less fantastical. There’s less fantasy if you compare it with Horse Money. It has a different kind of pain or suffering. Just the fact that it belongs to or comes from a woman gives it a certain gravity that Ventura—or perhaps men—cannot carry.

I’m doing films among a very disoriented community: once they were peasants, then they were immigrants and they were brutally exploited. I’m working in the middle of confusion, and it’s risky. My job as a filmmaker is also to not betray the trust they offer me, their life secrets, their dignity, their intimacy. It might sound absurd since we’re dealing with cinema, but my main concern is to keep their intimacy intimate. Anyway, we’ll grow old filming together, and it’s right there for everyone to see. It’s a kind of archive now, a memory album. — Pedro Costa

VITALINA VARELA won Golden Leopards for Best Film and Best Actress at last year’s Locarno Film Festival. Costa’s exploration of his signature theme—the grief-stricken exile of the community of Cabo Verdeans in Cova da Moura, outside Lisbon—was just released in New York City before the Covid-19 pandemic shut everything down.

Support independent cinema and its exhibitors by streaming VITALINA VARELA via your local art house, courtesy of Grasshopper Film. See links below for details.


Grasshopper Film

The Frida Cinema

The Roxie

Film at Lincoln Center

Pedro Costa, Vitalina Varela (2020), from top: Vitalina Varela; Marina Alves Domingues (right) and Varela; Ventura and Varela; Varela, Domingues, and Manuel Tavares Almeida; Ventura; Pedro Costa behind the camera, with Ventura and Varela, photograph by Vítor Carvalho, courtesy of Optec Films; U. S. poster, Grasshopper Film; Vitalina Varela flashback scene; Ventura and Varela; Varela. Film still and poster images courtesy and © the filmmaker, the actors, the photographers, and Grasshopper Film.

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