Still Lives: James Quandt on the Films of Pedro Costa

By Quandt, James | Artforum International, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Still Lives: James Quandt on the Films of Pedro Costa


Quandt, James, Artforum International


THE SINGLE MOST SHOCKING INSTANT in any film at Cannes this year was not Paul Dawson sucking back a sluice of his own cum in John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, Sergi Lopez suturing his freshly flayed face with a home sewing kit in Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, or the assorted sub-Borowczyk provocations in Gyorgy Palfi's Taxidermia, including a hard-on that doubles as a blowtorch, a speed-eating contest that ends in voluminous puking, giant cats devouring the entrails of their exploded owner, and the autotaxidermy that serves as the film's flesh-abasing finale. None of those scandalmongering moments could match the sheer disorienting power of the sudden shot of a painting--Rubens's Flight into Egypt, hanging in Lisbon's Museu Calouste Gulbenkian--in Pedro Costa's Juventude em marcha (Colossal Youth). Interpolated late into the film's seemingly endless succession of conversations declaimed in dim, decrepit rooms, the startling appearance of this Dutch Baroque masterpiece in its hushed, luxe setting packed a visual and tonal wallop--shot transition as sensory assault. (Maurice Pialat was a pro at such vertiginous edits.) But the multitudes who had fled the press screening an hour earlier during the film's first extended monologue were not there to savor Costa's formal coup, Youth being the kind of measured, demanding work to which Cannes is increasingly inimical. Compared with Costa's film, much else at the festival was pandering and blandishment.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The forty-eight-year-old Portuguese director could hardly have been surprised by the critical scorn; his supporters have long been sneered at as glum cultists, po-faced devotees of his particular brand of Lusitanian pornomiseria. Costa fits less comfortably with such celebrated compatriots as Manoel de Oliveira andJoao Cesar Monteiro than with the pan-European band of miserablists that includes Hungary's Bela Tarr, Germany's Fred Kelemen, and Lithuania's Sharunas Bartas. Divergent in vision, they nevertheless share a propensity for the long take and tableau structure; a fondness for desolate landscapes and haunted, life-battered faces; and a Dostoyevskian sense of existence as hell.

Costa took some time to arrive at his stringent style, leaving behind the romantic poetics of his impressive feature debut, O Sangue (The Blood, 1989), a black-and-white Traumspiel with music by Stravinsky and traces of Les Enfants terribles, Night of the Hunter, and Spirit of the Beehive in its hermetic tale of two brothers on the run with a kindergarten teacher, and the Jacques Tourneur-influenced reverie of Casa de Lava (Down to Earth, 1994), set largely in the Cape Verde Islands. But in Ossos (Bones, 1997), the first film in the trilogy that Colossal Youth concludes, this dreamy, allusive approach gives way to a Bressonian arsenal--elliptical editing; lack of establishing shots; little nondi-egetic music; inexpressive nonprofessional actors delivering uninflected line readings; sound employed to replace image and to suggest an offscreen world; and a precise, materialist treatment of objects, bodies, and space--which Costa applies to a decidedly un-Bressonian subject and setting: poor, forlorn lives in the suburban slums of Lisbon.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The very title, Ossos, shorn of even the article that O Sangue employed, suggests something of the skeletal austerity it strives for. Long before the Dardennes' L'Enfant (2005), Costa tells the tale of a baby born to a suicidal teenage mother whose equally young, blank-faced boyfriend uses the child as a prop for begging and then tries to sell it--first to a nurse who has shown him great kindness, and then to a prostitute. (He stashes the sweet-natured baby under the bed when he has sex with the hooker.) So insistent and condensed is the film's sense of desperation, it reminds one of the bleakest of Gyorgy Kurtag's Kafka Fragments, in which the heroine sums up her existence in six words: "Slept, woke, slept, woke, miserable life. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Still Lives: James Quandt on the Films of Pedro Costa
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.