June 4, 2006

Thank you Scott Foundas
(his defense of Colossal Youth):

"There were few if any boos at the end of the press screening of Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth, but that was because anyone likely to jeer (including the entirety of the three rows seated in front of me) had long ago fled the theater — many of them during the scene in which a methadone addict named Vanda pours forth a long, rambling monologue about childbirth, while a man called Ventura, who may or may not be Vanda’s father, listens inexpressively. Like all of the characters in Colossal Youth, Vanda and Ventura are “played” by real Cape Verdean immigrants enacting thinly fictionalized versions of their own lives, and to the extent that the film has a plot, it’s about how Ventura’s already tenuous existence descends into chaos when the demolition of the Lisbon housing project where he has lived for more than 30 years coincides with his wife’s decision to leave him. From there, Ventura sets out on an itinerant odyssey, dazedly wandering between his gutted-out former residence and a couple of prospective new ones, crossing paths with a succession of similarly displaced and/or dispossessed persons whom he refers to as his 'children.'

"Developed by Costa in close collaboration with his nonprofessional cast, many of whom contributed their own storylines and dialogue, Colossal Youth was whittled down by the director from more than 300 hours of footage shot over a 15-month period. The result is a harsh, nightmarish and often terribly beautiful film set against a world of peeling paint and crudely nailed planks, through which moves this solitary man grasping at the flickering embers of some real or imagined past. It is a movie in which marginal people living on the edges of society are treated with dignity and allowed to tell their own stories in their own unmistakable voices. And it is quite unlike anything that you or I have ever seen before.

"It’s no exaggeration to say that Colossal Youth was the single most divisive film at Cannes in 2006. Even before anyone had seen it, some Costa detractors were badmouthing the film up and down the Croisette, accusing the director of being a fraud championed by a few highbrow critics said to get off on his films’ impenetrability. It was a sentiment summarized succinctly by the Variety review, which opined that the film would “hold the Portuguese director’s coterie of fans in rapt attention while proving a colossal bore to everyone else.” But does the fact that a movie is destined to reach only a limited audience prevent it from being great? I grant that Colossal Youth isn’t for everyone: The pacing is slow (there are maybe 30 or 40 shots over the course of two and a half hours of screen time), and sometimes we are looking, for minutes on end, at two people lying on a bed watching TV, or sitting in a cramped, dimly lit room playing cards. Yet in the week since I saw the film, it has haunted my dreams and is still with me upon waking. If there were many good movies in Cannes this year, and perhaps even a couple of great ones, Colossal Youth is the only one I would venture to call heroic.

"The decision of the Cannes programmers to include Colossal Youth in the official competition struck even some of the film’s admirers as perverse, but to my mind it is the very sort of radical gesture by which Cannes continues to define itself. Like several other filmmakers who premiered new films at the festival this year — including the Argentine Lisandro Alonso and the Paris-based American expat Eugène Green — Costa is a director whose work is scarcely known within the borders of his own country (let alone elsewhere) and who needs a stage like Cannes upon which to present it, lest he follow in the footsteps of so many great artists not duly recognized in their own lifetimes. "



ZC said...

What's weird about the indignant dismissal of this film is that old saw about entertainment & accessibility--that is, a film's (ANY film's) bottom line must be to entertain that specter ("the average moviegoer") as far as the critic can prophesy, and if it doesn't appease this spectral presence, its conversation is not taken up in any way. 'I would talk about this film, but it's clearly a case of the emperor having no clothes since I yawned and checked my watch numerous times while watching it; it's so incredibly boring that I'd rather let the art fags slobber over it.' I'd like for there to be less handwringing in mainstream (and alternative) criticism about certain films committing that mortal sin of being "boring," and critics at least bothering to ask themselves why they find themselves so bored.

Andy Rector said...

There is already something exciting, monumental, in the stills from Juventude em marcha. This film was shot on dv and no one talks about it. Monumentality is not a sanctioned talking point for critics and DV. Yet many write florid articles about the "revolution" of DV -- and when the time comes to asses that which has actually been done: silence.
Perhaps it comes down to what the Straubs (Costa's mentors) said about Cannes. That one isn't "supposed to" film people like the ones in Ouvriers, Paysans, that nobody will care or even block screenings because the latest fashionable star (art film or commercial) is not in it. Likewise perhaps one isn't "supposed to" make a Lisbon laborers struggles monumental, framed against the sky, bathed in careful light, like Dovzhenko. No, when you film the lower classes your camera's thinking must be low, base, so that "we" know where we are immediately. Anything else is too risky.
Someday an honest critic will describe exactly what he or she is thinking while he or she is bored watching a film.
Films should be made to divide the audience. Maybe in better political, societal and cultural circumstances it would be different, but not today...