Virtual Screening Room: Vitalina Varela

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2019 • dir Pedro Costa w/Vitalina Varela • 124 min

This devestatingly gorgeous film from Portuguese master Pedro Costa takes us on a journey into the inky, sparsely-lit world of its title character. Vitalina Varela is a handsome Cape Verdean woman who was abandoned by her husband decades earlier and has just arrived in Portugal only to find that she is 3 days late for his funeral. She slowly uncovers the sad mystery of her husband’s death as well as the secret alternate life that he had been living an ocean away from her. Playing a fictionalized version of herself, the stoic Varela strides through a world of shadows that could be the slums of Lisbon or a dayless purgatory populated by lost souls.

Most of the spellbinding – though limited – action of VITALINA VARELA takes place in pools or slashes or points of light that hover in a permanent darkness. Aside from the engrossing performance by Varela, the lighting is the true star of this film. Characters glide in and out of the pitch black sides of the frame, lit doorways are islands floating in shadow, and hallways become tunnels into the permanent night of the film’s environment. It’s a shame not to be watching this on a big screen in the confines of a darkened cinema but, if you turn down your lights and shut off your phones, you will still be able to give yourself over to Costa’s profoundly moving and visually ravishing masterpiece.

“Every scene is a composition, an exquisite stage set, mysterious and shadowy… Ms. Varela’s face is as expressive as a silent-film star’s… Vitalina Varela is demanding, rewarding and ineffably stirring.”
– Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

“A beautiful meditation on legacy, loss, and love. Visually masterful. Endlessly contemplative, transcendental.”
– Jonathan Christian, The Playlist