A funeral procession emerges from the pitch-black center of a walled cemetery outside of Lisbon. Mourners move past the camera, but no one speaks of the deceased or of anything else. For the first 10 minutes of Pedro Costa’s latest, “Vitalina Varela,” wordless sound design and an immersive darkness settle in, the storytelling restricted to the aftermath of sickness and an unknown man’s last days.
Costa’s films often star first-time or other nonprofessional actors playing versions of themselves, with storylines reflecting their real lives, elements of fiction and documentary forming a seamless whole; as such Vitalina Varela plays “herself.” And as the film opens, and Vitalina arrives, she’s three days too late. The funeral was for Joaquim, the husband who abandoned Vitalina years earlier, and this three-day passage amounts to an anti-resurrection. Here, the dead stay dead.
Vitalina positions herself in the shadowy, crumbling hovel where Joaquim lived and died, and whispers her true story via sporadic monologues to, if not his ghost, then to his lingering atmospheric presence. Decades earlier, they were together in Cape Verde, built a home there side by side, until the day he fled for Portugal and a dissolute life, one spent “chasing street women,” one that also included an unspecified amount of time in prison.
Meanwhile, Vitalina waited for a reunion that never came. “You turned your face to death,” she scolds the darkness, often fixing her stern gaze on a makeshift altar of candles and photographs, “We could have stayed in Cape Verde… here there is only bitterness, here we are nothing.”
Breaking the long, patient silences between Vitalina’s memories, Joaquim’s fellow impoverished Cape Verdeans wander into the frame, some muttering their own reminiscences. The chorus of mourners echo narrative themes of displacement, loneliness, and the brutal legacy of their immigrant status and treatment by the ruling Portuguese, all motifs found in Costa’s earlier films “In Vanda’s Room,” “Colossal Youth,” and especially 2014’s “Horse Money,” where an abbreviated version of Vitalina’s story first appeared.
Costa and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Leonardo Simões, physically immerse these characters in near total darkness — including a show-stopping moment in which Vitalina tries to repair the roof of Jaoquim’s destroyed home during a storm in the middle of the night — allowing only the most indirect light elements into the frame. The result is a staggeringly beautiful and simultaneously stricken chiaroscuro, appropriating the Divine light of classical painting for the purposes of spiritual disaffection.
In keeping with this, an actor named Ventura — a member of Costa’s company of players and star of “Colossal Youth” and “Horse Money” — arrives playing a physically disabled priest. Ventura performs Mass in an empty, decaying chapel, and he’s burdened with the need to tend to as many of his fellow Cape Verdeans as possible by any means he can summon. He’s the only person to have an extended conversation with Vitalina, and to further illuminate the misery of colonization, even after death, he informs her that in order to speak to Joaquim’s spirit, she’ll have to do so in Portuguese.
By centering the real-life experiences of his actors, Costa’s conscientious cinema lives in a fully humane space. Material deprivation and unrelenting night provide a blackened backdrop for quiet intimacy and dignity. Costa rejects voyeurism and condescension in favor of a form of storytelling solidarity with his actors, one where there’s no buffer of irony, no distancing effects. There may be nothing to soften his characters’ pain, but there’s still great evidence of mutual care.
In the final moments of director Béla Tarr’s last film, “The Turin Horse,” the sun extinguishes itself, a reversal of the biblical creation story, and the film’s nearly silent characters wait out their lives in a suffocating void. Here, the existential stakes are the same, but Vitalina, Ventura, and the other unnamed mourners engage with the seemingly endless night by speaking their grief directly into it, looking to dig meaning out of their mutually inherited personal and historical trauma.
As they do so, Costa allows for an ambiguous physical daylight to return — whether it’s from a memory of better days or the signal of a future built on renewed comradeship is open to interpretation — but it brings a whisper of hope to the enveloping grief.
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www.thewrap.com | 2/21/20
‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ and ‘Gay Chorus Deep South’ Win Palm Springs International Film Festival Audience Awards
“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” — the story about a young displaced teacher who travels to Bhutan and is taught his own life lessons from the happy and kind locals (including a yak) — won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), it was announced Sunday.
“Gay Chorus Deep South” — a documentary following the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as the group embarks upon a high-risk tour of the Deep South to spread a message of tolerance — won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature.
“Parasite” screenwriters Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won won the FIPRESCI Prize for International Screenplay for their tale about two Korean families — one wealthy and one poor — whose live intersect in the most unexpected way.
Among the acting awards, Bartosz Bielenia from “Corpus Christi” and Helena Zengel from “System Crasher” took top honors.
The jury award categories included the FIPRESCI Prize for films in the International Feature Film Oscar Submissions program; New Voices New Visions Award for unique viewpoints from first- and second-time directors; Best Documentary Award for compelling non-fiction filmmaking; Ibero-American Award for the best film from Latin America, Spain or Portugal; Local Jury Award for the film that promoted understanding and acceptance between people; and the Young Cineastes Award for the film chosen by the Youth Jury. Finally, the GoEnergistics (GoE) Bridging the Borders Award, presented by Cinema Without Borders, honors the film that is most successful in bringing the people of our world closer together.
See the complete list of winners below:
Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature
Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature
FIPRESCI Prize for Best International Feature Film of the Year
FIPRESCI Prize for the Best Actor in an International Feature Film
FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actress in an International Feature Film
FIPRESCI Prize for International Screenplay
New Voices/New Visions Award
The Documentary Award
Local Jury Award
Young Cineastes Award
GoEnergistics (GoE) Bridging the Borders Award
The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is one of the largest film festivals in North America, welcoming 136,000 attendees last year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries. The Festival is also known for its annual Film Awards Gala, which honors the year’s best achievements in cinema in front of and behind the camera.
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www.thewrap.com | 1/13/20
MADRID — Disney. An extraordinary Mouse House septet, all ranking in Spain’s Top 10, drove its 2019 box office to its biggest cinema theater ticket sales in the decade, according to Comscore figures released Thursday. The last time movies in Spain scored more spectators was 2009, said David Rodríguez, general manager, Spain & Portugal, Comscore […]
variety.com | 1/2/20
Bob Berney and Jeanne R. Berney have relaunched their label Picturehouse and have acquired the North American rights to faith-based drama “Fatima,” the couple announced on Sunday along with James T. Volk, chairman and founder of Origin Entertainment.
The film is directed by Marco Pontecorvo and produced by Origin Entertainment along with Elysia Productions and Rose Pictures. Picturehouse has set a release date for the film on April 24, 2020.
Bob Berney was the head of marketing and distribution at Amazon Studios and left the company in June of this year. He headed Picturehouse in 2005 as a joint venture between HBO and New Line Cinema, and he and his wife relaunched the label in January 2013 as an independent distributor before he joined Amazon in 2015.
“Fatima” is a feature film starring Stephanie Gil, Lúcia Moniz, Joaquim de Almeida, Goran Visnjic, Sonia Braga and Harvey Keitel. It’s the story of a 10-year-old shepherd and her two young cousins in Fátima, Portugal, who report seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. Their revelations inspire believers but anger officials of both the Church and the secular government, who try to force them to recant their story. As word of their prophecy spreads, tens of thousands of religious pilgrims flock to the site in hopes of witnessing a miracle. What they experience will change their lives forever.
“Marco Pontecorvo has created a beautiful and inspirational film telling the emotional story of three young children whose visions captured a nation at a time when World War I was ravaging Europe,” Bob Berney and Jeanne R. Berney said in a joint statement. “We are extremely excited to bring this film to North American theatergoers.”
Directed by Marco Pontecorvo and written by Pontecorvo, Valerio D’Annunzio and Barbara Nicolosi, “Fatima” is produced by James T. Volk, Dick Lyles, Stefano Buono, Maribel Lopera Sierra, Rose Ganguzza, Marco Pontecorvo and Natasha Howes. The film features the original song “Gratia Plena” (“Full of Grace”) performed by Andrea Bocelli and composed by Italian composer Paolo Buonvino.
“Fatima” is the second feature by Pontecorvo following the drama “Pa-ra-da.” He’s also credited as a cinematographer on “Game of Thrones” and “Rome.”
“It is amazing to realize that in 1917, before television, the internet or any reliable mass communication, 70,000 people gathered at this remote site to witness an anticipated miracle,” Volk said in a statement. “It’s truly a remarkable story, based on real events, and we are excited to partner with Picturehouse in the release of this film.”
“Fatima is not a film about religion,” Ganguzza said in a statement. “It is a film about the power of faith in times of conflict and turmoil.”
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www.thewrap.com | 10/28/19
Isabelle Huppert’s latest film, “Frankie” from director Ira Sachs, required the actress to be especially open and honest, trusting in the strength of the characters and the performers around her rather than a strict plot.
Huppert plays an internationally famous actress who learns she has a terminal illness and brings together friends and family at a resort in Portugal in order to find some closure and hope that her loved ones are taken care of after she’s gone. But as Huppert explains, that’s “only a small part of the film,” which examines deeper relationships between its entire ensemble.
“There’s a lot being said and a lot being unsaid, and that really runs all along the film all the time, and it’s really important to capture the spirit of the film,” Huppert told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It’s one of those films where you feel so much trust by the strength of the camera, which is able to have people talk, but you feel that a lot is going on underneath, and I think that’s really Ira Sachs’s skill.”
“Frankie” is Sachs’s ninth film, which premiered at Cannes and then played at TIFF. And it is yet another film of Sachs’s that uses complex characters above plot constraints to stage intimate dramas about family and love. He assembled an impressive cast that includes Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson and Jérémie Renier specifically because of how they could interact on screen together.
“They were a group of people who I had a sense when I cast them would work together as a family,” Sachs said. “It’s a common acting style, a way in which a group of people who are willing to be very open and vulnerable and human and present with the camera. The film is about presence, it’s about a simplicity of being.”
Huppert felt comforted by how Sachs let his actors feel real and said in many ways it didn’t feel like acting at all.
“For me, it’s also a movie about the power of cinema, because when we acted, it was more like a non-acting performance for all of us, and when I say non-acting, it’s the degree zero of acting,” Huppert said. “You just let the human beings exist. No plot, and nothing, irony, a little comment, just the pure presence and pure strength of what’s being said, and that’s all.”
Sony Pictures Classics is releasing “Frankie” in theaters Oct. 25. Watch TheWrap’s interview with Huppert and Sachs above.
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www.thewrap.com | 9/18/19
The culture of Portugal is the result of a complex flow of different civilizations during the past Millennia. From prehistoric cultures, to its Pre-Roman civilizations, passing through its contacts with the Phoenician-Carthaginian world, the Roman period, the Germanic invasions and consequent settlement of the Suevi and Buri and the Visigoth, and, finally, the Moorish Umayyad invasion of Hispania and the subsequent Reconquista, all have made an imprint on the country's culture and history. The name of Portugal itself reveals much of the country's early history, stemming from the Roman name Portus Cale, a Latin name meaning "Port of Cale", later transformed into Portucale, and finally into Portugal, who emerged as a county of the Kingdom of León and became an independent kingdom in 1139. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal was a major economic, political, and cultural power, its global empire stretching from Brazil to the Indies. Portugal, as a country with a long history, is home to several ancient architectural structures, as well as typical art, furniture and literary collections mirroring and chronicling the events that shaped the country and its peoples. It has a large number of cultural landmarks ranging from museums to ancient church buildings to medieval castles, which testify its rich national cultural heritage.