Vitalina Varela takes its title from the name of its lead actress, a Cape Verdean woman who, as per usual with Costa's non-professional actors, plays a fictionalized version of herself. Vitalina first appeared in an episode in the director's previous film, Horse Money (Wavelengths 2015), wherein she recounted how her husband had left their homeland nearly 25 years ago to work in Lisbon - a separation that became permanent when she finally arrived on the continent, three days after his funeral. In Vitalina Varela, Costa refracts and expands that episode to place us firmly within his heroine's stoic point of view, capturing her extraordinary strength and resilience as she navigates the scanty physical traces her husband left behind, discovers his secret, illicit life, and encounters the other lives that darken the shadows of the Fontainhas that once was.Written by
Toronto International Film Festival
Disappointing arthouse film ... rich symbolism, but a plodding story with actors in stasis
I came to Pedro Costa's 'Vitalina Varela' with quite high expectations. Its expressionism, artistic camera work and oddly-staged lighting (filmed initially in the pitch darkness of night, objects and faces duly highlighted, gradually easing towards daybreak and sunlight) are dashed by a painfully slow story delivered by actors who barely move. Social realism is one thing, most scenes are apparently shot in slum places with non-professional actors, but having people who can act and a dialogue beyond meandering prose is surely the way to go. Even art shouldn't be this painful!
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