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Review: Vitalina Varela (2019)

Director: Pedro Costa | 124 minutes | drama | Actors: Vitalina Varela, Ventura, Manuel Tavares Almeida, Francisco Brito, Marina Alves Domingues, João Baptista Fortes, Nilsa Fortes, Lisa Lopi, Benvinda Mendes, Emídio Landim Monteiro, Imídio Monteiro, João Raimundo Monteiro,

It is the first time that she has put her (bare) foot on Portuguese soil. came to Lisbon from Cape Verde because her husband has passed away. He once left for Portugal as a guest worker, but never returned. She has not seen him for a long time and he appears to be buried when she, leaves, arrives. In his shabby house she tries to reconstruct his life there and his end. She receives help from a priest she still knows from the past and who is a Cape Verdean immigrant herself. In the Portuguese capital, entire neighborhoods where immigrants live in dire circumstances in small houses, surrounded by narrow, shady, almost ghostly streets.

“Vitalina Varela” is a visually overwhelming where the beautiful use of light and shadow is particularly striking. This inevitably evokes associations with the “chiaroscuro” that Rembrandt used in his paintings. It’s almost like walking around in a living painting. Besides the image, the use of sound is also special. Periods of silence alternate with scenes in which ambient noise predominates. The dialogues between in a soft tone, spoken almost in a whisper. The supported sung ecclesiastical rites thus reach the viewer extra hard.

The main role is played by the non-professional actress Vitalina Varela, on whose own life the is based. Her grief-stricken face with the sad glance is the anchor of the film. In the main male role, can be seen as the priest. He played more often in films by director Pedro Costas. Ventura and Varela have been seen together before in “Cavalo Dinheiro” (2014).

It is really a movie that you have to sit down for. There is not much plot development. What Vitalina is trying to find out about her husband’s life is especially clear from conversations and the pace is very slow, full of long, statically filmed shots. It takes some getting used to that the mainly revolves around tightly directed scenes full of everyday actions, supplemented with moments where the characters talk past each other, instead of with each other. The only “action” in the film is that the priest stands unsteadily on his feet and occasionally falls over. In short: it is a film for connoisseurs and above all a visual spectacle in which the fantastic camerawork of Leonardo Simões carries the film.

“Vitalina Varela” has won many awards at international festivals, with the film itself being honored as director Costas, cinematographer Simões and actress Varela.

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