Until today, only one film in the Main Slate hasn’t yet had its NYFF 2014 entry. Now, thanks to Girish Shambu, who’s posted a thoughtful and thought-provoking entry on ten films he saw in Toronto, we have a quorum: Pedro Costa‘s Horse Money, Round 2, following a first wave rolling out of Locarno and Toronto—and of course, in anticipation of an eventual theatrical release, courtesy of Cinema Guild.
“This film feels like a formidable work—but it resists immediate ‘assimilation’ and ‘critical processing,'” writes Girish. “Every image here is majestic, unhurried, stone-like: with a silent weight. The stunning opening features a series of Jacob Riis black-and-white photographs of working-class and poor people. In the next ten films I see after I’ve seen a Costa film, I think I am unconsciously more sensitive to the sculptural possibilities of cinema, the way light occupies, models, shows and hides a given space—and it was true here too.”
“It’s tempting to paint Costa as heir apparent to the neorealists,” suggests Steve Macfarlane at Slant, “but the simple demands of a dramatic screenplay—much less a work of propaganda, leftist or otherwise—aren’t even feigned in his latest, which picks up more or less where Colossal Youth left off. That film followed the state’s dismantling of the Lisbon slum known as Fountainhas, and its central figure—a lanky, grizzled Cape Verdean immigrant in his 70s, known only as Ventura—returns as the doubled-down focus of Horse Money.” Ventura “appears to be approaching the end of his life utterly destitute, and the stops the film gives him along the way are less boxes being checked off in the service of an almighty economic/political thesis than they are fragmented memories…. It’s become a cliché to invoke a theoretical debt between Costa’s work and video art, but if anything it’s closer to still photography: The tempo of Costa’s sepulchral, willfully artificial frames only quickens as the film re-enters Ventura’s mind, back when the world held much more in store for him.”
“Costa has been accused of obscurantism, and I think there’s merit to the charge,” writes Godfrey Cheshire at RogerEbert.com. “Yet the power of his imagistic procession is undeniable, even enrapturing. Somewhere between Rembrandt and Eraserhead, dominated by shades of brown and gray, the film’s pristine HD cinematography (co-credited to Costa and Leonardo Simões) conjures a dark night-world of shadows, hulking forms and sculpted faces that’s as visually alluring as it is psychologically resonant. Watching it, though my doubts about the story’s opaqueness remained, I felt myself being swayed into the Costa camp.”
Writing for Filmmaker, Howard Feinstein notes that Ventura “passes through spaces defined more by extremes of light and shadow than walls and ceilings, settings that could be out of Costa’s beloved Val Lewton horror movies, but firmly rooted in their forebears, German Expressionist films, with Ventura’s resemblance to the sleepwalking Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari adding to the sense of warped time in a deranged psyche…. He begins to relive other early experiences: working as a teen in a factory, fighting fascists. The film warms up whenever the men break into song, the lyrics owning up to the hardships of their day-to-day lives, but the soulful melodies joyful…. I won’t ruin the ending; let’s just say that it is startling and heavy however you choose to interpret it.”
More from Dustin Chang at Twitch, where Patrick Holzapfel talks with Costa about John Ford (and more), Nikola Grozdanovic (Playlist, B+) and Gary M. Kramer (Film International).
Update, 11/29: Darren Hughes sets images from Costa’s films next to work by artist Aaron Douglas.
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