In Vanda’s Room (2000, Pedro Costa)

Interlacing! Surly women argue over heroin. Nhurro takes a shower. Vanda sells lettuce. Bunch of one-shot scenes, disconnected from each other – I mean, they’re in the same neighborhood with some regular characters, but one doesn’t narratively follow the last. Sometimes the movie seems to be challenging me not to watch it, like when a man with a needle in his arm compares awful blood-clot stories with a friend, or when a girl will not stop scraping a tabletop with a razor.

S. Hasumi: “All of Pedro Costa’s shots have a vertical power that breaks the viewer free from the story’s linear cause and effect. The pleasure of exposure to that liberation has, ever since F.W. Murnau, been a privilege allowed only to film.”

It’s Carrefour!

Caught references to Cape Verde and to a woman who either sold, killed or abandoned her baby (the story is not well remembered – nothing around here is). Other than that, no Jacques Tourneur film-love or even a Wire bootleg on a boombox, just pure miserable reality. Of course it’s not exactly reality, as pointed out by the commentary – shots are staged, there were retakes, dialogue was thought out before the scene.

More than two hours in, Soon after the girls talk about their childhood in this neighborhood, when drugs weren’t around, or at least were better hidden, the song “Memories” is playing on a TV, cutting after the line “I remember the time I knew what happiness was.” What, is the movie belatedly remembering that it’s a movie? I didn’t enjoy the first half, thought it was getting worse, then felt increasing sympathy for it during the final hour.

Cyril Neyrat sees revolution while I struggle to stay awake and not to get annoyed:

Costa bought a Panasonic DV and went to Fontainhas alone, every day. Vanda and Zita had invited him into their room: “Come, you’ll see what our lives are really like. You used to ask us to be quiet; now we’re going to talk, you’re going to listen. That’s all we do, talk and take drugs.” Over six months, alone with his DV camera, a mirror he found on-site, and cobbled-together reflectors, Costa reinvented his cinema: facing the bed, he looked for frames and strove to master the light that came in through a single tiny window, as in a Dutch painting … After the six months, a sound engineer came to lend a hand from time to time. He recorded the girls’ speech, the murmur of Fontainhas, the sounds of the bulldozers and the mechanical diggers tearing the condemned neighborhood’s houses down one by one. The miracle of In Vanda’s Room is that of a new agreement between the world and the film, of a recovered equality between the two sides of the camera.

Costa reinvented a solitary, craftsmanlike cinema, operating at the pace of everyday life: going into the neighborhood each morning, looking, working, doing nothing, picking from the stream of life and energy flowing before the camera something that might give rise to a scene. And then repeat it, do it over—up to twenty times—until the beauty and the intellectual and imaginary power of a sculpted reality made dense and musical are revealed. With In Vanda’s Room, Costa strips cinema bare, but far from wallowing in an aesthetic poverty that would add to the humiliation of the underprivileged of Fontainhas, he rediscovers in this subtraction the aura of the great primitive and classic cinemas, and their ability to reveal and celebrate the beauty of the world, the beauty of sounds and colors, of a ray of light passing through shutters to illuminate three bottles set on a wood table.

“It looks like a film, it is a film in some sort of way,” opens Pedro defensively in the DVD commentary, before proceeding to tell us about the difficult sound work they did in post-production. “It’s a bit pretentious but the ambition with Vanda in sound, image, everything, was to recompose, offer, unveiling the secret that really doesn’t exist, going against the cinema-machine…” it’s a rambling commentary, but it’s a three-hour movie so there’s no hurry. It rambled me straight to sleep, twice in the first hour, so I finally gave up halfway through.

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