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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Saturday, May 5, 2007
8:15 p.m. Colossal Youth
Pedro Costa (Portugal/France/Switzerland, 2006)

(Juventude em marcha). Colossal Youth is the third installment in Pedro Costa's ongoing filmic collaboration with inhabitants of the Fontainhas district of Lisbon, a slum populated mostly by immigrants from Cape Verde. Costa reunites with Ventura, a seventy-five-year-old Cape Verdean immigrant whom the director met during the filming of Bones (1997), and Vanda Duarte, also featured in Bones and whose struggle with heroin addiction was the focus of Costa's follow-up In Vanda's Room (2000). Since the making of these two films, the Fontainhas slum has been razed; the stepping-off point of Colossal Youth is the relocation of its inhabitants to a newly constructed district on the outskirts of the city. The film focuses on Ventura, who wanders back and forth between the nearly empty slum dwellings and the newly built apartment buildings, visiting Vanda (now clean) and other young immigrants who treat him as their "papa." Ventura's visits with each of his "children" are like discreet duets, in which the father often sits silently while the child expresses his or her own suffering and disillusionment. Despite his tall frame, majestic composure, and calm manner, Ventura is a lost soul himself; his wife has recently left him, and he lives a life without purpose. Costa presents the material and emotional wasteland of his sympathetic subjects within a rigidly stylized construct of extremely long takes anchored by frames of empty hallways and closed doors. Apart from Vanda's improvised monologues, the actors speak their lines without intonation or expression. Costa's austere cinematic style—a unique hybrid of documentary observation and fictional reenactment—certainly challenges viewers, but anyone seriously interested in the formal possibilities and rigorous inquiry of experimental film should not miss this rare opportunity to experience the understated power of the medium's politicized successor to Robert Bresson and Jean-Marie Straub.

—Beverly Berning

• Written by Costa. Photographed by Costa, Leonardo Simões. With Ventura, Vanda Duarte, Beatriz Duarte, Gustavo Sumpta. (155 mins)