Q&A with Pedro Costa

“The normal way of making films is all wrong,” Costa recalled having realized on the set of Ossos. “We should rethink all of it.” And rethink it he did. In Vanda’s Room, which Costa made in Fontainhas with a two-person crew and in close collaboration with the movie’s handful of nonprofessional stars, is a landmark in modern cinema. For nearly three hours, we watch Vanda and her sister shooting up, coughing, laughing, talking, and going about their days as bulldozers and construction equipment rumble ominously around them. (When Costa came back to Fontainhas with a portable video camera, the neighborhood was already being razed.) But we are also watching a seamless convergence of fiction and nonfiction, a thrilling dilation and expansion of cinematic time, and the discovery of a new, immensely rich visual vocabulary unique to the digital image (here printed onto 35mm film): its way of capturing natural light and the movement of bodies, here and now. It is to a certain strand of contemporary cinema as the discovery of perspective was to painting: the movie that made a generation of filmmakers rethink the terms of their art.