“The twenty-first century began with In Vanda’s Room,” the famous Portuguese critic João Bénard da Costa wrote with no sense of exaggeration. This second film in Pedro Costa’s Fontainhas trilogy can be labeled unequivocally as one of the greatest masterpieces in film history. Although his filmography already included three feature-length films, Costa describes In Vanda’s Room as his “first film.” He made his debut in 1989 with O Sangue [Blood], followed in 1994 by Casa de Lava [Down to Earth], which was filmed in Cape Verde. Costa returned from the island with packages and letters from Cape Verdeans for their relatives who were emigrating to Portugal. His job as “postman” took him to Fontainhas, a poor suburb of Lisbon. After initial contact with the residents, Costa went back to the area several times and in 1997 filmed Ossos there. After that film, he decided to radically revise his approach. Disillusioned with the traditional way of filmmaking – with a large crew and unnecessary financial responsibilities – he went back to the neighborhood on his own and, unlike what he had done in his earlier work (on 35 mm), began filming on MiniDV. For more than a year he filmed in Fontainhas with the heroin-addicted Vanda Duarte, who lives with her mother and sister and spends most of her time doing drugs or selling vegetables door-to-door in the neighborhood. The result is a modest, digitally shot but shimmering document in beautifully composed tableaux reminiscent of Vermeer’s painting, in which the neighborhood residents, like actors, transform their lives into a beautiful play of light, color and sound. Costa doesn’t fall back on certain procedures of documentary film that primarily seek to expose the miserable state of the world and exploitation. In Vanda's Room is the result of a painstaking construction process that departs from the fragments of the actors’ imaginations and memories, fragments that Costa himself helps shape with a gaze that looks through the prism of film history. They form the building blocks for a unique cinematic world in which a profound intimacy is accompanied by awe-inspiring beauty.
Milestones: No quarto da Vanda
With an introduction by Gerard-Jan Claes