COLOSSAL YOUTH (Pedro Costa, 2006)

Reminiscent of Elem Klimov’s Farewell (1981), Portuguese writer-director Pedro Costa’s Juventude Em Marcha completes his Fountaínhas trilogy. The Cape Verdean shantytown is being demolished, its inhabitants relocated northward to a housing project in a Lisbon suburb. The film begins with the voices of indeterminate people and ends with the sound of an infant’s contentment.
     Apparently, 75-year-old communal patriarch Ventura (Ventura, dignified, without false nobility, part of the nonprofessional casting) has lost one home but has yet to be deposited in another. Thus the somber film largely consists of his homeless wanderings and drop-ins here and there, including on a daughter or, possibly, surrogate daughter. One character may be a ghost; other ambiguous elements set reality on the border of memory and myth.
     This thoroughly absorbing work, besides providing an unwincing portrait of poverty, casts Ventura amidst the “new” environment; early on, a low camera finds the tall, gracious man “outgunned” by the sterile white buildings towering him. Their juxtaposition is correlative to the battle that the old man embodies. Uprooted, the Creole souls, having already suffered more than their historical share (colonization, slavery), now must face the lonely prospect of losing their culture; their memories and collective memory are being “whited out.”
     In some ways Costa made an unannounced, uncertified Dogme 95 film. (The purist movement had already run its course.) Certainly his (gorgeous) use of natural light—he and Leonardo Simões digitally videographed, transferring the result to 35mm—suggests this; his dim, luxuriantly dark interiors on occasion evoke Rembrandt. Costa fills much space with nothingness—a projection of both current feelings of the characters and their worried-after destiny.
     Costa may cut from one doorway to another or include in the same shot two doorways, one canceling the other. There’s no place to go.
     Staggering.

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