IN VANDA’S ROOM (Pedro Costa, 2000)

“The real torture was knowing that other people could smoke [smack].”

Having viewed the films out of order, I must fix this in my head, because Vanda Duarte, the heroin-addicted woman with a racking cough in No Quarto da Vanda, the tremendous three-hour middle film, is a through-character in Portuguese writer-director Pedro Costa’s Fountaínhas trilogy. The same Cape Verde slum outside Lisbon where Ossos (1997) was set is now in the early stages of being gradually demolished. This process is further along in Juventude Em Marcha (2006), by which time former inhabitants have been relocated. Vanda, who began as Tina’s hardworking, spirited chum, now shares affectionate, nostalgic scenes, and drugs, with her sister, Zita; their bickering usually resolves itself in laughter. In the last part, Zita dies; Vanda still coughs but is in recovery; alone, she is a television-viewing zombie. Ironically, in No Quarto da Vanda, her TV set is on without her paying notice.
     Visually intricate, astonishing (Costa digitally-videographed), Costa fixes his camera for long takes inside various apartments; but another passage detailing Vanda’s neighbors consists of short, rapid shots. Costa’s fixed camera attempts to impose stability amidst the dismantling of homes and lives. Relatedly, a man nails something to the wall with a hammer. Life goes on until it’s sent packing.
     All films exist on a continuum whose poles are documentary and fiction. Costa’s fiction is extremely close to documentary; like Robert J. Flaherty in Nanook of the North (1922), Costa has his nonprofessional “actors” play themselves doing what they otherwise would. No Quarto da Vanda took the prize of international critics at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival “for presenting life in its near-original form.”
     I was premature in declaring Juventude Em Marcha Portugal’s greatest film. This may be it instead.

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One thought on “IN VANDA’S ROOM (Pedro Costa, 2000)

  1. I’m so glad Criterion has made these films available to a wider, appreciative audience. When I saw my first Costa film, Colossal Youth, at a film festival a few years ago, it was one of those wonderful, rare experiences when you find yourself thinking, “Well, I didn’t know the cinema could be this.” And it was so much fun having that experience again when I finally tracked down a dupe of In Vanda’s Room. I’ve enjoyed reading your responses.

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