Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Post-Punk Poet of Portugal

Pedro Costa


"Music is a bitch. I worship her."
-- Bassoe,
Casa de Lava

His movies feature music by The The ("This Is the Day") and Wire ("Lowdown").
His latest, Colossal Youth (2006), even takes its title from the Young Marble Giants.

Reviewing their sole record for Resonance earlier this year, I wrote, "Originally releas-
ed in 1980, Colossal Youth is the musical equivalent of Charles Laughton's expres-
sionist masterpiece Night of the Hunter. The British actor never directed another film. The Welsh trio never recorded another album. No matter. In retrospect, it was a brilliant move to quit while they were ahead-there's no way they could've topped
this post-punk classic...their spare songs play like messages from another world."

Yet Portugal's Pedro Costa (b. 1959) is better known for the otherworldly look and existential feel of his films than for the music they feature-or for the degree to which music has influenced his filmmaking. It is, however, one of the more intrigu-
ing ways Cinema Scope's Mark Peranson introduced the series Still Lives - The Films
of Pedro Costa
at the Northwest Film Forum last night, so I've decided to run with it.

Isaach de Bankole in Casino Royale

The six-part series began with a screening of Costa's first film, 1989's
O Sangue ("Blood"), a languid, monochromatic musing about a young
man's efforts to raise his brother after their father's death. It was lensed
by the late German cinematographer Martin Schäfer (Radio On). According
to Peranson, it was the first and last time Costa would work in 35mm (he
now shoots strictly on DV). The series continues tonight with Casa de Lava.

I was hoping to cover this 1995 feature first because it stars Isaach de Ban-
kole, a powerful presence in numerous films from Claire Denis (Chocolat, I Can't Sleep) and Jim Jarmusch (Night on Earth, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai).

After the screening, Peranson mentioned that the Ivory Coast-born actor stars
in Denis's upcoming White Material, which follows reports that he'll be taking the
lead in Jarmusch's untitled Spanish project. In addition, Bankole appears in Jul-
ian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, so if the name is unfamiliar, that's sure to change soon. (And speaking of music, I just discovered that he's mar-
ried to acclaimed jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson. Not sure how I missed that.)

T-shirt in the window of the NWFF

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get ahold of the DVD until last night. With plans
for the evening and most of the next day, I didn't get a chance to start watching Casa de Lava ("House of Lava") until late this afternoon, with hopes of posting a pre-
view before the screenings this evening at 7:15 and 9:15pm. Worse yet, I wasn't able to get the disc to play in either of my machines, so here's the NWFF synop-
sis: "A Portuguese nurse accompanies a comatose immigrant worker back to his hometown in Cape Verde, where she struggles to piece together the details of
his life while navigating a strange, mysterious culture steeped in superstition."
Bankole's co-stars include Ines de Medeiros (O Sangue) and Edith Scob (Eyes without a Face).

The Flickering Wall describes the movie as "elliptical" and "stylized," while Strictly Film School adds that it's "dense and ingeniously metaphoric." According to Peranson, Costa couldn't stand working with Bankole, so he enjoyed keeping his character confined to a bed for the bulk of the shoot. (Which begs the question: I wonder if Julian Schnabel felt the same about The Diving Bell's Mathieu Amalric...?)

In any case, the Young Marble Giants could almost be referring to the film when Alison Statton sings, in "N.I.T.A.," "Nature intended the abstract for you and me."

Bankole and de Medeiros in Casa de Lava

Next up: Colossal Youth

Still Lives - The Films of Pedro Costa takes place at the Northwest Film For-
um from Mon., 12/3, through Wed., 12/12. The series is rounded out by Os-
, In Vanda's Room, and Where Lies Your Hidden Smile? (The latter is accom-
panied by the shorts 6 Bagatelas and Ne Change Rien featuring Amalric's wife,
Jeanne Balibar.) The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Avenue on Capitol Hill be-
tween Pike and Pine. For more information, please click here or call 206-329-
2629. Images from the NWFF, Cinematheque Ontario, and Hotflick.net.


  1. It slipped my mind, but I meant to ask Mark Peranson if there was any affinity between Pedro Costa and Leos Carax. I know, it's one of those questions that can be thought of as a bit stupid but, having watched O Sangue and Casa de Lava, I can't help but feeling some similarity in their approaches.

  2. In which case In/(TM)s de Medeiros could be seen as his Juliette Binoche--although I have no idea if they were ever personally involved. Incidentally, Peranson wasn't kidding when he said he was a Tony Scott fan. Check out his ballot from last year's indieWIRE poll:
    He also lists "Colossal Youth" as one of the year's best undistributed films.