Dir: Pedro Costa | Cast: Vitalina Varela, Ventura, Manuel Tavares Almeida, Marina Alves Domingues, Francisco Brito, Imidio Monteiro | Portugal 124′
Portuguese director won Best Director in Locarno five years ago with Horse Money. He makes his return with Vitalina Varela a dour and enigmatic portrait of grief that has a certain resonance with his previous Golden Lion winner.
Not helped by a fractured narrative the drama drifts around but certainly looks impressive in Leonardo Simoes’ striking Tourneur-esque chiaroscuro cinematography that enriches the mostly nocturnal setting in a Lisbon backwater. The morose foreground activity of its intense and self-assured heroine (played by Vitalina Varela herself) plays out against a reassuring lowkey background hum of voices and music. It soon emerges that Varela originally fetched up in the capital from the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde Islands after her husband had left her many years previously to return to Lisbon, dying shortly after her arrival in Portugal. But the mystery surrounding her current existence is shrouded in more enigma – she very much embodies the Fado tradition – finding it hard to adapt to her reduced circumstances in Lisbon,, and she clearly regrets leaving. But eventually Varela finds meagre solace in another lost character, a lapsed Christian played by Ventura. Varela holds her own as a series of desultory characters occasionally enter the fray in this spectacular Demi-monde. MT
NOW ON RELEASE | WINNER OF THE GOLDEN LEOPARD and Best Actress Award for Vitalina Varela| LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL