An excerpt from the booklet writing by Daniel Kasman

Compared to almost all contemporary cinema Pedro Costa's Vitalina Varela stands out as a film that takes more risk, runs the most difficult course of existence, and is devoted with every ounce of its being to the compassionate transmission of another’s experience. It premiered in competition at the Locarno Film Festival in August 2019, where it deservedly won the top prize, the Golden Leopard, and Vitalina, its heroine, won Best Actress. The Portuguese filmmaker’s last feature, Horse Money, won the Best Director Award in Locarno in 2014. Vitalina Varela is a film of fierce determination and paramount resonance.


On the evening of Viatlian Varela's premiere in Locarno, Pedro Costa spoke with Daniel Kasman at length about his first encounter and working with his heroine, his unique style of production, and the economics of his cinema.

DANIEL KASMAN: How did you first meet Vitalina?
PEDRO COSTA: I was three-quarters into shooting Horse Money and I was thinking of doing this series of shots, interior shots, of people in their houses, a remembrance of the old Fontainhas neighbourhood. I wanted to do a sequence that could be a kind of musical offering. But I couldn’t find that many houses anymore, the neighbourhood was almost completely destroyed, demolished, most of the people had been relocated in several social building blocks. And then a friend told me to come to Cova da Moura, which was not very far from the area where I usually shoot. This place is a different African neighbourhood, a bit more conventional, not as traditional as the old Fontainhas. But he thought that there were two or three houses and some people who I might like.

DK: What do you mean by ‘conventional’?
PC: Well, conventional in the sense that it was much more acculturated. With no tradition or any feeling of community whatsoever. It's a mix of modest provincial houses built by white migrants that came from the north of Portugal to Lisbon and some islands of African immigration that arrived in the ‘70s. White and black people still live quite separate lives but there’s a small centre of that neighbourhood that sort - of looked like the African houses that had been built in the other places. So I went to visit. I was trying to describe what I was searching and he said: ‘there’s this house, but the guy just died’ - actually, he painted a very dark picture of Vitalina’s husband, as a bit of a gangster, a strange guy – ‘but he died, and the house has been closed since, so I don’t know... but perhaps we can kick the door in?’ As soon as he said that and pointed at the house, the door opened, and Vitalina was at the doorstep, all dressed in black, in mourning. It's a moment that will stay with me forever. This was 2013. She had arrived five, six months before, she had been inside that house more or less closed off from almost everything. She didn’t know many people there, she had some cousins and a sister but not in Lisbon, quite far away. She didn’t speak Portuguese; she didn’t have papers. She was afraid. The neighbours were not very friendly, because, you know, this is not paradise. They are extremely suspicious. They have reasons for that, but they are really harsh among themselves: who’s this new woman? what's her purpose? I mean, her next-door neighbour, still today after I shot for months at her house, he’s still a bit closed to her. So, she appeared at the doorstep dressed in black. I asked her gently if she would let me see her house, and I tried to explain the reason for our interest, the film, et cetera. I felt she was afraid we were from the immigration office or something. But she was very kind and accepted. I came back the next day and I went a step further and proposed her to be in the shot, just standing or sitting. We talked a bit and I thought she liked our company it was just a feeling. And in the course of our conversation I discovered that she’s a very far - removed cousin of Ventura. So they met - they’d never seen each other - and they liked each other and Ventura told her: don't be afraid, come with us, you'll enjoy the shooting. He really helped. So she came with us, and not only did she do her part in Horse Money, but she came every day just to be a part of the team, to help us with things.

DK: She became a part of the community of the shoot?
PC: Yeah, Ventura is also a lot with us even when he's not shooting. Anyway, working the way I do, without scripts, shooting schedules, daily call sheets, et cetera, I never know if he's going to shoot tomorrow or not. As he likes to say, he's retired and doesn't have much else to do, so... he's always part of the crew. And she helped a lot. I feel safe with my two main actors next to me.


Dabiel Kasman's complete piece, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Portugal, 2019
Vitalina Varela: 125 mins
Special features: 100 minutes
Sound (Blu-Ray):
5.1 DTS-HD master audio /
2.0 Stereo LPCM (48k/24-bit)
Sound (DVD): Stereo 2.0 /
5.1 Dolby surround
Original aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Language: Portuguese and Kabuverdianu
Subtitles: English, Portuguese

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080i / 25fps Region ABC (Region Free)
DVD: PAL / DVD9 / 25fps Region 0 (Region Free)

DVD £12.99 / Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 31 Aug 2020


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