Vitalina Varela (2019) Poster

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One for Costa aficionados only.
MOscarbradley16 June 2020
You need to work hard at a Pedro Costa movie. His films are not for those who like speed or action or even need to see what's going on. Though shot in colour his films are more black on black and the greens, purples, blues and reds that intrude during the opening moments of his latest film, "Vitalina Varela" come as something of a shock. Otherwise, it's business as usual. Costa aficionados will love this but if, like me, you find his work 'difficult' you won't find much here that's different. My problem with Costa isn't the dark cinematography or the slow pace but the sense that everything is staged in an unreal world that we are meant to accept as 'realistic'. Costa's films are like theatrical productions in which the actors say very little and just wander around the stage though to be fair, "Vitalina Varela" is beautifully shot; darkness has never seemed more tangible.

The title character, Vitalina Varela, is a Cape Verdean woman who travels to Lisbon after the death of her husband, perhaps to set his affairs in order, perhaps just to find out more about the man who abandoned her. Vitalina Varela also happens to be the name of the actress playing her and, although she has only appeared in this and one other Costa picture, must surely be considered an actress, (she did win Best Actress at Locarno), and not just the character she is 'playing'. But then Costa likes to cast people in his films playing people who may or may not be variations of themselves. He likes to blur the lines between fact and fiction and he does so very, very slowly though certainly with a degree of skill.

There are people who swear by his films, (others may swear at them); people who see in Costa a new kind of film-maker, a saviour of the cinema in an age of paltry, mindless 'entertainments' where even the new 'art-house' directors like Claire Denis and Bruno Dumont are selling out but to quote a certain Miss Jean Brodie, 'for those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like'. I have no doubt cineastes amongst my readers will already be picking up their brickbats to hurl at me for not loving this but hopefully not too many will have seen it and I will live to review another day.
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Build your house well... and remember to look to the day lit sky when the shadows grow too deep.
JoshuaDysart13 May 2020
An expressionistic melancholy spell. Painstakingly composed and beautifully lit. The texture and hues of the images are remarkable.

The images do very little of the storytelling beyond place, space, and tone. The story itself is almost completely orally told. Even then, words emerge after long ambient soundscapes of unseen "slum life" always just happening beyond the image's frames or on the other side of walls.

Whether it's day or night, it's almost always pitch, with pinpoint spotlighting illuminating only parts of this desolate world and the striking faces that occupy it. Most of the image is in consummate shadow. Until the end, when, finally, emerging from out of our mourning, we begin to see daylight and sky. Most of this sky is in memory, but not all.

The pacing is so languid and the creative choices so deliberate that we have plenty of time to live inside the images and moments.

I felt there was some Bergman here: the disenchanted priest; the memory haunted spaces and characters; the faces floating in darkness, only their eyes revealing the depths of their emotional experiences.

You are forgiven for thinking that this film is boring or could be shorter. You are forgiven for thinking that it is perfect as it is, even somehow fragile; that it creates the exact effect on the viewer that is intended.

You are forgiven for thinking and feeling anything you've ever thought and felt, as long as you turn your face towards kindness from this moment forward... but you must do it quick, before the credits roll.
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nigiweij22 July 2020
A poignant story in an extraordinary setting, shown in a poetic, serene way.

Gorgeous cinematography, shot in a clair-obscur style which highlights certain distinct colours from the darkness (at times reminiscent of old masters's paintings, such as the work of Caravaggio or Rembrandt).

Strong, pure acting by the lead actors - Vitalina Varela and Ventura.

Pedro Costa tells his story slowly, but intelligently. Instead of presenting the plot outline on a silver platter, he challenges the viewer to discover this for himself. Costa's style of story-telling reminds me of Bela Tarr's films; both prefer the visual language over the spoken one.

This film is not very accessible, and requires full attention. But it will prove to be very rewarding in the end.
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One of the remarkable films of 2019
JuguAbraham8 December 2019
Superb use of sound and camera, fascinating performances. My first Pedro Costa film--what a joy to view it. Reminded of Sokurov's "Mother and Son"--had he made it, it would be probably titled "Wife and Husband." This Pedro Costa film is definitely one of my best 2019 films. Winner of Golden Leopard and the Best Actress awards at Locarno film festival. Well deserved!
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Disappointing arthouse film ... rich symbolism, but a plodding story with actors in stasis
ok_english_bt10 September 2020
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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Beauty but what for?
woutervandersluis10 July 2020
I watched this movie praised by most critics for its beauty. And it is a beautiful shot movie because of mis-e- scene, acting, lightning and camera. It is all superb in its self inflicted-limitations. Very simple mis-en=.scene and dressing of mostly very poor slum interiors, all shot at night. Fascinating acting of the woman Vitalina who's face is so great to look at in the many close ups. The lightning which makes with its claire obscure and brilliant color accents everything into a Carravagio painting. And the camera which chooses always a fixed cadre like a painting and gets the light and colors in a subtle way. There is hardly a story cause there is no development. It is more the depiction of the failed life of the just died husband of Vitalina, told to us through her eyes, her monologues, searching for details and questions to the priest who buried him. In one scene the husband is shown seen on his slender young naked back lying in the matrimonial bed still in Cabo Verdi. The now young wife Vitalina stands up and walks out of their self build house into a beautiful but dry landscape. The general theme of the movie is the misery of life in general and that of Cabe Verdian migrant workers in particular. My question watching the movie was and is what is the function of all this beauty, what is it for? Is it to show that allthough life is miserable the figures in this movie experience it as beautiful? The answer is negative cause they are desperate in their life and see no light. Is the beauty meant to soften our experience of viewing all this malheur? Of course it does. How to watch so much ugliness for such a long time if there is not something nice to be seen? It has that softening and pleasurable effect but it is not the main function of all this esthetica . I think the function is deeper. Is it l'art pour l'art: beauty for beauty sake? Maybe but what does that mean here? I think that in a religious way we are shown the deep humanity of all these unlucky and unhappy people and the possibility to reconcile ourselves through this beauty with human life. At least I think it is meant that way by the maker of the movie. Did it work that way with me? In a way yes but not in a satisfactory way. Maybe that's my fault.
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Good butdark and heavy
valadas11 June 2021
In this movie Vitalina Varela performs her own person role in an event of her personal life as a non-professional actress.

As a Capeverdian living in Cape Verde (a former Portuguese colony) she saw her husband leaving to work in Lisbon, Portugal. Only 25 years later she managed herself to leave to Portugal to join her husband. However she arrived there three days after his death. Then an atmosphere of sorrow and bitterness sets itself in the movie even suggested by the image darkness, the slow movement of characters and their foreground plan faces. Meanwhile Vitalina becomes aware that her husband's behaviour was rather illicit.

A remarkable movie direction by Pedro Costa.
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Dark is Good?
westsideschl9 January 2021
Mostly filmed in a poorly lit (candle; open door for daylight; small window) very small adobe house. Most of the film is visually dark, and silent except we hear the thoughts of the ex-wife who has arrived in Portugal from Cape Verde shortly after her separated husband has died. Few others are seen except the husband's hanging out mates, and a priest. We get little snippets of his life; none of which is interesting or unusual. Very little acting required. For those who like to search for meaning in an obtuse, obscure artsy presentation.
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Write a headline for you review here
Joao_Carlos11 January 2021
Pedro is very well know outside the country he lives and films on, not that much in the country he actually lives, the country I also live. I think the reason for that is, one: the films are complicated, and two: his filming a reality people don't know and don't want to see. There's a lot of people that don't really understand what "his" saying, and I can't blame them, because I also don't understand, in some, a large portion of it, Pedro himself says he doesn't either. To watch "his" films I ask for the company of my mother. She explains the films to me, a rare occasion for her, because she's accustomed to being me doing the movie explanations. She's seeing a reality she lived 50 years ago, right after the 1974 revolution, a revolution made only for some.
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Gorgeous cinematography but devoid of emotion
jb-x15 July 2020
Costa has a great eye for capturing picturesque scenes in any landscape. The beginning 30 minutes are stunning and really gripped my attention but I got easily distracted and bored after that. Costa's films require an overwhelming amount of attention which leads us to think, is it really worth it?

Vitalina is devoid of emotion as per characters from his previous films. Despite it inviting us to form our own interpretations, I think the film would have done better to maintain our attention with some emotion put into the characters' performances.

Unless you have a very strong attention span, I wouldn't recommend this film because you won't finish it in one go. However, I would recommend a few brief skips through the film to look at the excellent renaissance-esque shots.
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Why bother
dogonlion18 July 2020
This is slow, real slow... and dark, real dark. A movie should have somewhat of an entertainment value. This has none.
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staring into the void in the dark
juantheroux28 January 2021
For over two hours in what might as well be catacombs, we watch humans walk like zombies in slow motion, or staring into space unmoving, hardly saying a word, except for whispered voice overs so as not to disturb the dark. After a 20-year separation a woman arrives to join her husband but he was buried three days before. That's about the extent of the story. About the only action is watching people smoke for lack of anything to do. Everyone's miserable and pining for the good old days. The priest when he used to have a full house (though he can still pay for the funeral and everyone's bills). The woman when she was young and active. We don't know who the other characters are. Finally, we get to see the light of day. But turns out it's a flashback to when the young couple built their house. So the only hope is to live in the past, as there is no present or future?
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The woes of emigration
hof-418 September 2022
The islands of Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), in the Atlantic, 600 km west of the Senegal coast were a Portuguese colony until 1975. As a country, they enjoy the dubious distinction of having more of its citizens living abroad (700,000) than at home (560,000), which reflects the lack of job opportunities. In particular, about 100,000 live in Portugal, most of them eking out a living out of low paying jobs.

The scenario is Cova da Moura, a suburb of Lisbon, whose inhabitants are 75% from Cape Verde. Its houses were constructed by the locals, without the benefit of a permit. It is an urban island without open spaces, with streets of random widths and serious crime problems,

The main character is Vitalina Varela (played by herself), Her husband Joaquim left her (and his homeland) 25 years ago in search of better opportunities. He settled in Cova da Moura, where he built a precarious house, with insufficient light, crumbling walls, leaking roof and untiled floor (he and Vitalina had constructed a cheerful, airy house back home). Vitalina hears no more of him until she is informed that Joaquim has taken ill. She flies to Lisbon but arrives three days after the funeral. She learns about Joaquim's life from various dwellers of the shantytown. She also reconnects with a priest that she knew from the islands.

This is it. Director Pedro Costa tells the tale in a rather peculiar way. The pace is slow, sometimes excruciatingly so. Every shot by cinematographer Leonardo Simões is carefully composed; the lighting is unabashedly artificial and produces chiaroscuro scenes that, of course, remind one of Caravaggio. Crumbling cement walls, squalid interiors and unpaved lanes take a three dimensional quality and a life of their own. We don't see the shantytown as the locals see it but through the eye of a painter. We all "know" that excessively elaborate cinematography may interfere with the tale being told, but the director stands this rule on end. The final result is worth watching, even if only for the visuals.
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the academicism of arthouse film.
adabatsarl18 January 2022
The academicism of arthouse film. Shots like paintings, which say "ah! Look how beautiful it is, how well I know how to do it!". But each film has the same recipe (fixed shot that lasts, lasts, expressionist light, few dialogues): no variation. Worse, a condescending look at misery, used to clear one's conscience. It is, basically, dishonest.
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Do you have two hours to waste?
konnir-5164514 November 2021
The summary of this film inlcudes the whole story, the film adds only dark pictures. There are only few dialogues, very few. If someone is actually talking, it doesn't make sense. Most of the time you just stare at a still picture. If you want to learn something about colonialism read a book or watch documentaries. It is definitely a better use of time. It is questinoable why there are many good ratings, what are people able to interpret out of this movie? I did not learn anything and am left with more questions than before.
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