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Blu-Ray Review: Pedro Costa Reaches New Heights With ‘Vitalina Varela’ Out Now From Second Run

Pedro Costa’s films have consistently showcased a profound understanding and compassion for the individuals they portray.

Continue reading the article to find the Blu-Ray review of Vitalina Varela, Pedro Costa’s documentary drama.

A deep empathy for humans has always marked Pedro Costa’s films.

His movies have consistently been defined by a profound understanding of the individuals they portray, and this remains true in his most recent work, Vitalina Varela.

Blu-Ray Review of Vitalina Varela

One of the film’s numerous strengths is its capacity to immediately convey its profoundly compassionate portrayal of its subject.

While Costa’s visuals have long been captivating, the way he captures faces in this film is unprecedented; each close-up of Varela is profoundly moving.

The film Vitalina Varela is the culmination of Costa’s work since transitioning to digital cinematography and delving into collaborative narratives within Lisbon’s marginalized communities.

While Costa previously demonstrated remarkable skill in extracting unexpected beauty from the limitations of MiniDV digital video in In Vanda’s Room and Colossal Youth, Vitalina Varela elevates his art to new levels.

The film skillfully contrasts light and shadow in a series of captivating scenes. Despite the advancements in digital technology, Costa’s ability to uniquely capture the essence of the visuals remains unparalleled.

Blu-Ray review of Vitalina Varela

Vitalina Varela builds upon a scene from Costa’s previous film, Horse Money, where a Cape Verdean woman recounts her experience of arriving in Portugal three days after her estranged husband’s funeral.

Costa encountered the grieving Varela while filming Horse Money and integrated aspects of her real-life narrative into the movie.

By expanding on this story in Vitalina Varela, Costa provides a broader platform for what is considered one of the most compelling performances he has ever showcased.

The film delves into themes of grief, isolation, and resilience in the face of disillusionment.

Varela transforms her grief into a steely will to carve out a place for herself in a foreign land, a neighborhood she doesn’t know anyone in, and a room occupied by her husband, whom she hardly knew before he left her decades earlier.

Vitalina Varela, like all Costa movies, has a natural feeling of space, and the expressionistic lighting and precise camera angles convey a dense, even oppressive weight.

Varela is shown sitting alone in scenes with a flurry of action around her, but it is not directed towards her. Her interactions with her heartless new neighbors don’t make her feel any less alone.

Amid adversity, Varela remains steadfast and discovers solace in a priest who has also lost his followers.

Ventura, a frequent collaborator known for his roles in Horse Money and Colossal Youth, portrays the priest, showcasing a departure from his usual on-screen persona in Costa’s movies.

Unlike his usual self, the priest openly expresses his anguish, mirroring Varela’s inability to contain her sorrow as he mourns the demise of his faith.

Varela chooses to keep her anguish private, yet the movie manages to convey this deeply internal emotion in a manner rarely seen in other films.

Vitalina Varela contains two poignant scenes where she envisions glimpses of Cape Verde, portraying the radiant sun and natural beauty as a stark contrast to the surrounding imagery.

Whether these moments evoke nostalgia or represent dreams of a future with a husband who will never materialize, they only intensify Vitalina Varela’s sorrow. However, they offer a glimpse of a potential reality.

The film’s 25 fps format is maintained in the accessible region of the Second Run Blu-ray. The documentary is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a 1080i transfer.

My first viewing of the movie on streaming and my second viewing on Blu-ray were very different, and Second Run’s flawless transfer brought Costa’s photographs’ hyper-reality to life.

The rich, deep black levels on this disc are crucial to understanding the film’s aesthetic, and they serve as further evidence in favor of discs over streaming, as streaming causes black levels to die a compressed, macroblocked death.

Every aspect of the transfer, such as its sharpness, clarity, and fine detail, is impressive.

The vibrant and engaging DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound captures the feel of the busy neighborhood where the movie was filmed. Included is a 2.0 LPCM stereo track as well.

Companhia, a short video on Costa’s museum installation display in Porto, and an hour-plus interview with Costa from a March 2020 screening in London are among the extras.

A brief introduction by critic Chris Fujiwara is also included. There are also a few trailers on the DVD.

A booklet featuring an essay by Daniel Kasman and another in-depth interview with Costa—who never backs down from an opinion—is included in the bundle.

Also, see Blu-Ray review: Martin Scorses’s World Cinema Project No. 3, From The Criterion Collection.

Ashish Maharjan
Ashish Maharjan
Ashish, a seasoned editor and author for World Cinema Paradise, intricately weaves creativity with precision in his writing, establishing himself as a prolific content creator. Renowned for clarity and captivating storytelling, Ashish has cultivated a devoted readership, driven by his unwavering passion for words and commitment to excellence.

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