• The work of Pedro Costa has progressed in slow, measured steps, but each step has been a giant leap.

  • The Samuel Beckett of world cinema... His career arc is one of the most fascinating in modern cinema.

Just look at any film by the Lisbon-born, 56-year-old director Pedro Costa, whose body of work includes eight features and a handful of remarkable shorts, and you’ll find something thrillingly rare in contemporary cinema. It might be the moral ferocity with which Costa, who made his first feature in 1989, films the lives and trials of Lisbon’s immigrant poor, the intense focus with which his camera captures the shape and atmosphere of specific neighborhoods, buildings, and rooms, or the unprecedented richness and textured clarity of his images—especially those shot, in the case of his more recent films, on digital video.

Costa turned to moviemaking at a period when Portugal was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy. It was in part from his original, unorthodox ways of watching the work of some filmmaking masters—Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, and Jacques Tourneur, to name a few—that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Labels slide off his movies: they are “formalist,” yet they pulse with life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are patient and yet possessed of a powerful momentum and a strong sense of rhythm.

Ever since his second feature, Casa de Lava (1994), Costa’s films have been anchored in two related places: the Cape Verde archipelago and Fontainhas, the slum in which many people from that long-colonized country found themselves after moving to Lisbon in search of work. It was in Fontainhas that Costa shot In Vanda’s Room (2001), now a landmark in the history of docu-fiction cinema. By that time, the neighborhood was already in the late stages of demolition, and in Costa’s work since it has manifested a ghostly, burnt-out presence. These two more recent features, Colossal Youth and Horse Money, both starring the nonprofessional actor Ventura, are some of the glories of modern cinema. On the occasion of the U.S. release of Costa’s latest, Horse Money, we are proud to present a comprehensive survey of this modern master’s cinematic world.

Acknowledgements

Cinemateca Portuguesa; Pedro Costa, Optec, Sociedade Optica Técnica; Qualia Films; Cultural Services of the French Embassy, NY; Institut Français, Paris; The Criterion Collection; The Cinema Guild

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