Vitalina Varela - Vitalina Varela(Blu Ray) [Second Slight - 2020]Vitalina Varela is a 2019 arthouse film that ushers us into a universe of shadows, half-light, and darkness where it plays solemn & mysterious drama, thatís edged with metaphysical horror and grim gothic torches. Itís a film where real and non-real bound and at times blur, and where time itís self seems to drift and at points almost grind to a halt. Here from Second Slight is a recent region free Blu Ray of the film, taking in some worthy extras and an inlay booklet.
Vitalina Varela is the 7th feature-length film from Lisbon based writer/director Pedro Costa- he started his film career back in the late 1980s, with his first film being 1989ís Blood- a seemingly glumly dream-like monochrome mystery drama. Since then he has carved out a distinctive filmography of slow & often grimly minimalist work- and Vitalina Varela very much follows the trend. The whole film is staged at such a slow & brooding pace, with the small cast giving well observer but extremely nuanced performances. So you have to be ready for a deliberately paced arthouse film that is dark both visually & theme wise- but if you are then youíll find a masterful creation thatís full of lulling wonder, slowly revealing mystery, and moments where seeming the dead and alive meet- yet never in a clichťd horror way.
The film is based in and around a refugee shantytown in Lisbon- and it finds an unnamed woman(Vitalina Varela) travelling from her homeland of Cape Verdean to Lisbon after her estranged husband has died. The two hour and four-minute film has a small & compact cast, who play out the very slow unfold drama in the grim, claustrophobic, and at times downright creepy ghetto.
Aside from the environment heard music the film is score-less, with instead the distant sound of neighbours, animals, and slow hiss of gaslight been its minimal soundtrack. The actors seemingly slowly drift around, or lurk in the murky half-light of the ghetto- at points; I thought I was looking at a well-captured photograph of an actor, then they sudden move. The film creates itís own dark & shadowy universe, that really is unlike anything else Iíve seen before- and from time-to-time, you get moments of grim & spellbinding wonder. For example, we get a scene where characters seem to merge & blur into inner-city scrubland, or where we see figures trolling down a tunnel in the darkness that seemingly webbed with thin & jagged spider web like a light. The whole thing opens in a wonderful gloomy gothic manner, with a barely lit wall with stone crosses above it & figures slowly appearing in the foreground. Itís certainly a film you have to let your self slow down to, and get submerged in its slow-moving & gloomy world- but if you do youíll find many moments grim wonder and sombre contemplation.
Moving onto the Blu Ray its self- and we get a wonderfully high definition print, where the largely shadowy and dark presentation of the film is crisp & balanced in its colour balance & artful mix of light and shadow. and the films subtitles are easily read & clear though-out. Moving onto the extras on the disc- and we get a one hour & eighteen-minute interview with the director carried out at the ICA in London where the film played in March of this year- this is most insightful & fascinating as he talks about the films shooting processes that took around nine months, the collaboration with lead actress Vitalina Varela- who in reality lost her husband and wasnít able to attend his funeral, the crew set up, and of course comments of the film's themes- if you enjoyed the film you must check this interview out. Next, we get a twelve-minute short film charting the director's installation at the Serravals museum in Porto, and an around four-minute introduction to film by critic and author Chris Fujiwara. The release is finished off by a glossy twenty-four-page inlay booklet- this is largely made up with an interview with the director discussing the film, and again is most worthy.
Vitalina Varela is very much a film that enchanted and captivated me with itís takes on death ,mourning and isolation- visually the film is fairly unique & distinctive with its use of shadow & lack of light, and the performances throughout are wonderful reserved-yet- at the same time emotionally felt. Yet another wonderful film and presentation from Second Run- who are rapidly become one of my favourite labels around.Roger Batty