August 1, 2007

Pedro Costa and Colossal Youth.

Pedro Costa "For someone whose films have until recently gone largely unseen, the Portuguese director Pedro Costa has a pretty vociferous fan club," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "His admirers include the French director Jacques Rivette (who called him 'genuinely great') and the Canadian photographer Jeff Wall (who claimed that Mr Costa's films improve on Robert Bresson's)... Staking out a radical middle between documentary and fiction, he has invented a heroic and quite literal form of Arte Povera, a monumental cinema of humble means.... Speaking by telephone from Lisbon, Mr Costa called his methods a throwback to, of all things, old Hollywood. 'It's like a studio system,' he said. 'We go to work every day. We have our economic structure - everyone gets paid the same - and we have our stars.'"

"With Colossal Youth, Anthology indulges local screenheads with a full Pedro Costa retrospective," writes Ed Halter, noting this "excellent opportunity to see the Portuguese director's vision emerge over time, from his more traditionally cinephiliac debut drama The Blood (1989) to his documentary on the auteurs of austerity, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001), which doubles as a casebook of conceptual clues to Costa's own enigmatic esthetics."

Updated through 8/3.

"One way into Colossal Youth, a difficult movie by any measure, is to understand what motivates the minimalist," suggests Nathan Lee, also in the Voice. "Through a process of elimination, simplification, and emphasis on fundamental structure, the Reductive Minimalist is after something quieter, firmer, more honest or resonant. Constantin Brancusi and Robert Bresson belong to this tribe." The Reluctant Minimalist, on the other hand, is "an artist whose point of departure is absolute nothing: the blank screen with no image projected upon it, the length of film stock as yet unexposed, the raw canvas, the empty page. The question is not what to pare away, but why anything should be added in the first place.... Robert Ryman and Samuel Beckett belong to this family of minimalist. And so does Pedro Costa."

"Composed of extended long takes and static digital video shots, with characters talking slowly at each other in darkly-lit, disconnected vignettes threaded together by a single, wandering protagonist, Colossal Youth suggests Beckett and Chantal Akerman but goes even further by draining any residual 'fun' from what might be best deemed the cinema of entropy," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "As if fun were the point."

At Slant, Fernando F Croce finds Colossal Youth to be a "unique metaphysical vision that, tracing its characters' dislocation, seems to weave between alternate worlds as easily as it navigates from image to image."

Earlier: "Cannes. Juventude Em Marcha." and "Same time next year?"

Updates, 8/2: "Eventually, across the monumental boredom, mesmerizing, nearly still images and poetic rhythms of this 155-minute film, something like pathos or meaning can be sensed, if not really apprehended," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I'm genuinely glad I made it all the way through Colossal Youth, but remain agnostic about whether the pain was worth it."

"Colossal Youth by and large successfully navigates away from the pretensions its formal monumentality can imply, and instead captures the living grandeur, weight, history, desolation, and ingrained, unspoken emotions of even the most everyday of things, people, and spaces," writes Daniel Kasman.

Updates, 8/3: "Beautifully photographed, this elliptical, sometime confounding, often mysterious and wholly beguiling mixture of fiction and nonfiction looks and sounds as if it were made on another planet. And, in some respects, it was," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mr Costa's long, generally static takes, most of which last a few minutes though a few run closer to 10, are themselves kinds of rooms, spaces that you can examine at your leisure and settle into. The actual rooms alternate between the atmospherically derelict and the anonymously pristine, though all are gorgeously lighted as if a direct invocation of Vermeer.... Mr Costa flirts dangerously here with turning his characters into exotics, with making their misery seem somehow ennobling, as some accuse Dorothea Lange of doing in her photographs of sharecroppers. But he never strays down that path, perhaps because the people in this movie are as much his collaborators as his subjects."

I'm glad Manohla Dargis has brought this up. I've never seen a single film by Costa (I know; believe me, it's frustrating), but I have seen Tout refleurit: Pedro Costa, cinéaste and this was an issue very much on my mind in early scenes as he sets up shots for Colossal Youth (scenes which are intercut with others showing Costa editing the film) - until the real payoff for the doc when director Aurélien Gerbault accompanies Costa to Fontainhas. There, Costa talks a long, long time about his collaboration with that neighborhood's residents. The scene begins in bright sunlight; as dusk settles, Costa's still talking. It took a while, but eventually, he did convince me that the residents have been willing collaborators - and in many cases, evidently, friends - and that he has no interest in exploiting their exoticism. One of the things he said, too, rang particularly true. To grossly paraphrase, Costa said he was sure that they would not much like the films he's made with them; but that they were glad to have been a part of their making.

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Posted by dwhudson at August 1, 2007 10:10 AM


It's my understanding that Girish Shambu actually had dinner with Costa in Toronto and I look forward to someday reading all about that. (I'm momentarily feeling like Louella Poppers, the celebrity gossip columnist of the online set. Heh.)

Posted by: Michael Guillen at August 1, 2007 2:22 PM