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Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa

March 1, 2008 - April 12, 2008

Colossal Youth, March 1, April 12

“I think that Costa is genuinely great.”—Jacques Rivette

Acclaimed in Artforum, Cahiers du cinéma, Film Comment, and Cinema Scope, the Portuguese director Pedro Costa is possibly the most intriguing, relevant filmmaker at work today, captivating viewers with his spare, austere aesthetic, willful ambiguity, and combination of documentary, avant-garde, and fiction. While his slow-burn, trancelike style is wholly his own, Costa’s earthy portraits of the immigrant and marginalized communities of Lisbon’s slums have emerged from a recognizable, classic narrative background of Ford, Lang, Ozu, and Chaplin, touched with the more modernist palette of Straub-Huillet and Béla Tarr.

Born in Lisbon in 1959, the former rock guitarist Costa entered the then nascent Lisbon Film School in 1977, existing on a steady diet of cinema classics and contemporary criticism that were soon channeled into his astounding debut film, The Blood. His later features, especially his Fontaínhas neighborhood trilogy, abandoned the hectic cineaste’s dazzle of The Blood for a nuanced, intimate, rigorous aesthetic of observation and poetic interludes, marked by Vermeer-like domestic tableaux and a compassionate attention to his dispossessed, forgotten characters. Costa’s method, shooting over extended periods and working with non-actors “playing” fictional versions of themselves, adds an intimacy unprecedented in either fiction or documentary. “Few movies,” wrote Dennis Lim in the New York Times, “are as concretely rooted in physical reality or as profoundly attentive to their social context as Mr. Costa’s. Staking out a radical middle between documentary and fiction, he has invented a heroic and quite literal form of arte povera, a monumental cinema of humble means.”

Pedro Costa is an artist in residence at UC Berkeley March 1 through 9, and presents the Regents’ Lecture at PFA on March 9.

Jason Sanders
Associate Film Notes Writer

Saturday, March 1, 2008
6:30 p.m. Colossal Youth
Pedro Costa in Person. Widely acclaimed as one of the best films of 2006, this experimental docu-fiction captures life in a Cape Verdean neighborhood of Lisbon. “A work of cinematic art.”—N.Y. Times. Repeated April 12.

Sunday, March 2, 2008
3:00 p.m. The Blood
Pedro Costa in Person. Two young boys flee through nocturnal Portugal in this shimmering tribute to ’50s noir.

Sunday, March 2, 2008
5:30 p.m. Bones
Pedro Costa in Person. Costa’s austere portrait of Lisbon’s junkies, schemers, and dreamers. “Out-Bressons Bresson.”—Cinematheque Ontario. With short Ne change rien.

Thursday, March 6, 2008
6:00 p.m. Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?
Pedro Costa in Person. This documentary on legendary filmmaking duo Straub/Huillet is “quite simply a masterpiece.”—Senses of Cinema.

Thursday, March 6, 2008
8:45 p.m. Sicilia!
Pedro Costa in Person. Straub/Huillet’s adaptation of the notorious political novel Conversations in Sicily. “See Sicilia! And live again!”—Libération. With Costa short 6 Bagatelas.

Saturday, March 8, 2008
7:00 p.m. In Vanda’s Room
Pedro Costa in Person. Vermeer-like, becalmed portrait of twilight Lisbon. “A standard by which to judge humanist cinema.”—Cinematheque Ontario.

Sunday, March 9, 2008
3:00 p.m. Regents’ Lecture by Pedro Costa (Admission Free!)
Costa discusses his remarkable films that mix documentary and fictional elements, focusing on his Fontaínhas trilogy.

Sunday, March 9, 2008
5:00 p.m. Down to Earth
Pedro Costa in Person. Costa’s politicized reimagining of Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. With short Tarrafal.

Saturday, April 12, 2008
6:00 p.m. All Blossoms Again: The Films of Pedro Costa
This French documentary on the filming of Colossal Youth provides insight into Costa’s painstaking working methods.

Saturday, April 12, 2008
7:45 p.m. Colossal Youth
See March 1.

The Pedro Costa retrospective was organized by Ricardo Matos Cabo, Lisbon, and is coordinated at PFA by Kathy Geritz. Pedro Costa’s Regents’ Lectureship at UC Berkeley is sponsored by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. We are grateful to the following institutions and individuals for making this series possible: Portuguese Studies Program/Institute of European Studies, UC Berkeley; Cinemateca Portuguesa-Museu do Cinema, Instituto do Cinema e Audiovisual (ICA), Ministério da Cultura, Instituto Camões, Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros, Lusomundo Audiovisuais, and Midas Filmes, Portugal; Thom Andersen; João Bénard da Costa; Haden Guest; and James Quandt.