Vitalina Varela (2019)

Master of light and shadow, Pedro Costa returns with another visually-hypnotic elegy about the disenfranchised and their unbearable solitude.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Pedro Costa
2019 | Portugal | Drama | 124 mins | 1.33:1 | Portuguese
PG (passed clean)

Cast:  Vitalina Varela, Ventura, Manuel Tavares Almeida
Plot: A Cape Verdean woman navigates her way through Lisbon, following the scanty physical traces her deceased husband left behind and discovering his secret, illicit life.
Awards: Won Golden Leopard, Best Actress & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention (Locarno)
International Sales: OPTEC

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Existential
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex, Elliptical
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: National Museum of Singapore – Singapore International Film Festival 2019
Spoilers: No


Pedro Costa’s latest film, Vitalina Varela, won the Golden Leopard at Locarno, one-upping his Best Director win at the same festival for his previous work, Horse Money (2014). 

Like Horse Money, Vitalina Varela is largely shot in chiaroscuros as the master of light and shadow gives us another haunting and poetic film about the human condition as experienced by disenfranchised outsiders. 

In this case, a Cape Verdean woman makes a trip to Lisbon to find out more about her estranged and recently deceased husband. 

As she orientates herself in what used to be his home, she begins to piece together the illicit life that he has led away from her, through brief mutterings by friends—sometimes strangers—who pop by out of genuine concern or nosy curiosity, as well as physical traces that reveal little about the man. 

Played by Varela herself, and winning Best Actress no less, her character is a stoic woman of very few words, but any medium shot of her face seems to suggest an unbearable solitude, a world of pain and emptiness. 

Costa’s work is very slow but deliberate, an arthouse film through and through. 

While it is nowhere as philosophical or challenging in form as Horse Money, Vitalina Varela still has much to offer as a visually-hypnotic elegy about the loss of personal agency, a kind of stasis that may be difficult to recover from, much like the bunch of people who appear out of the dark in an alley—some old, some disabled—in the evocative opening shot. 

Grade: A-


Trailer:

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