Pedro Costa’s latest film is a mesmerizing and radical expansion of the milestone chronicle of displaced peoples and dreams that stretches across his so-called Fontinhas trilogy, named for the endangered and ultimately destroyed neighborhood where Ossos (1997), In Vanda’s Room (2000) and Colossal Youth (2006) all take place. While the earlier films are largely choral, interweaving multiple characters and stories, Horse Money focuses resolutely upon the figure of Ventura, the aging Cape Verdean immigrant and construction worker first seen in Colossal Youth, and now convalescing in a sanatorium transformed by Costa—and DP Leonardo Simões—into a shadowy, oneiric and almost Caligarian space. The ethereally beautiful and frightening sculptural figures hewn by Costa make indistinguishable the friends and ghosts who visit Ventura and set Horse Money adrift between haunting stories of Portugal’s vanished past and troubled present.
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John Quackenbush 0:00
2014. The Harvard Film Archive screened the film, Horse Money. Participating are HFA Director Haden Guest, and filmmaker Pedro Costa.
Haden Guest 0:11
[Good] evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Haden Guest, I'm Director of the Harvard Film Archive. I'd like to thank you all for being here tonight. I'd like to ask everybody, first, to please turn off any cell phones, any electronic devices, that you have that shed light or make noise, and please refrain from using them during the course of this screening. It's a real honor to be able to welcome to the Harvard Film Archive Pedro Costa. To welcome back, I should say. We've had this honor on occasions before, but each time it becomes more exciting and more important.
Pedro Costa is a true pioneer. A pioneer in the real sense, in that, with his films he discovers and explores territory entirely new. Entirely of his own. August institutions, like the Flaherty Seminar, made something of a cottage industry of debating and torturing themselves over the categories of fiction/nonfiction cinema and the sort of interrelationship and interdependency of them. And yet few artists, I think, truly revitalize, and engage in important ways, these questions as Pedro Costa.
I think the first film that really announced Costa’s stature and importance was In Vanda's Room, from 2000, which is truly a millennial film, not only for its date, but, really, for offering a true answer to the kind of hand wringing and questions about the state and future of cinema that preoccupied so many of us at that time. This is a film that reaffirmed the urgency and necessity of cinema as an artform uniquely able to engage and transform our imagination of the world. Each film of Pedro Costa’s is an occasion, not only here at the Harvard Film Archive, but across all those communities united by a real passion for cinema.
Horse Money, Pedro Costa’s newest film, is both a continuation and a radical departure of his work, and of the trilogy of films begun by Ossos, in 1997, and completed by Colossal Youth, in 2006. It’s his darkest, most dreamlike, and perhaps, most ambitious film. It grapples with the ghosts, not only of the past of its hero Ventura, who was also featured prominently in Colossal Youth, but also the ghosts of Portugal's troubled past. This is also among Pedro Costa’s most beautiful films. And yet, it's a dark and unsettling beauty. It's a film that I think is revelatory, is one of the few works that reveals the sculptural and painterly possibilities of the young, still young, medium of digital video. It invents a world in which statues quite literally come to life. A world animated by colors that seem to come equally from dreams, or perhaps nightmares, as the world that it transforms. This is a film that you will not forget.
Please join me in welcoming Pedro Costa.
Pedro Costa 4:06
Good night, thank you. I remember this [INAUDIBLE]. To be very brief, because this is not even kindness—suffocatingly [CHUCKLE] kind. Perhaps the ones that would like to talk after, I will be here. But just wanted to say briefly, I've read some things about this film, nasty things, saying that you should know a lot about certain things to understand the plot. Certain things being history of my country and stuff like that. It's not really true. You'll understand, there are some– Well, you’ll see some forces of order, soldiers, police, around some shots. What happens is, this film was started with some discussions, talks, recollections, that me and Ventura, the main actor, we talked a lot about this revolution in ‘74, in my country, or what seemed to be a revolution, really. One day he told me he was, at that day, the 25th of April ‘74, he was in a certain place, a garden, a park, in Lisbon. And I was, I don't know twenty, thirty meters away from him. I was demonstrating with banners and shouting the slogans, and he was hiding behind some bushes. And this film started from this contradiction: for me the revolution was the future, and for him, was darkness. But you don't have to know so much to follow this thing. So, thank you. The film is not too long, but [INAUDIBLE] forget [INAUDIBLE].
John Quackenbush 7:08
And now, the Q&A with Haden Guest and Pedro Costa.
Haden Guest 7:13
Before beginning the discussion, I'd neglected to thank two individuals who made tonight possible. First, I want to thank Dennis Lim, from the New York Film Festival, who's here, and thank him for all his help.
And I also want to thank Ryan Krivoshey from Cinema Guild, who made it possible for us to present the screening tonight, as well. They’re the distributors of the film.
Pedro, I'd love to start at the beginning of this film, to start with the sequence of Jacob Reese images that we see. Images that are slightly different from the kind of iconic and controversial Reese images that I think he's best known for. These images, you know, of waking these tenement families up in the middle of the night with this, you know, flash and the camera barging in there. Instead, we have these portraits of this lost world of absolute poverty, and at the same time, a world that isn't lost. A world that lingers. And I was wondering if you could speak a bit about this image sequence, and the image that follows it. This portrait that is so arresting.
Pedro Costa 8:37
I like this, well, some part of photography, that sometimes I think it's better than the films, still, especially today. I like a part of photography that has this– They used to call themselves citizen photographers. Always loved them. And I had this idea of collecting some images and having them in the film. I didn't know how... I knew I couldn't do a documentary, or something like that, about him, or wouldn't know how to do that. So in the middle of this film, I thought it could have its place. And it was very difficult to select the pictures, the one of ten, or I don’t know how many there are. It's one of the most difficult parts of editing. Really, sometimes it's this stupid, you know... Editing is very profound, very blood sweat and tears. And sometimes it's so stupid because you cannot find the solution, and this is still very strange. But it had its place in this film, I think. And, also because I don't think he's a very well known photographer, it's not the kind of book you have in your living room. You will have the, I don't know, Nan Goldin or something.
Haden Guest 10:40
Pedro Costa 10:42
Or even Lewis Hine, or... I really like photography. Photography, in a sense, the documentary photographers. And he's the one I prefer. He had, yeah, everything I like. A bit of realism, a bit of irrealism, or surrealism. The light, the mise-en-scène. Because from what I know, I've met some people who are scholars and experts and especially a man who studied his work, and he told me that everything is fake, they are faking. They are not asleep, they are not afraid, they are not working, they are not... They are posing. It’s a bit like the Lumière. Lumière used to do a take, and then a second take, a better take, the best take. It’s a kind of fake documentary thing. Yeah. But it has not that much to do with poverty, or the tenements, and… It’s something more... I don’t know.
Haden Guest 12:06
The ghosts of history, perhaps?
Pedro Costa 12:08
Yeah, it's more. It's something to do with this… It's called stills. We still call it stills, because it's a still. It's a present, an everlasting present. And that, for me, in Reese photographs, it's very, very… It's an evidence. And I think I would like this film to be like a complete present. They are always talking about the past, or it seems to be something very far, very strange, very deep, and very buried. But it's actually an everlasting present that Ventura is chewing in his head, all the time. And Reese pictures have, for me, this quality. Some great photographers have this. And if you see a photograph by, yeah, all of them, the great ones, it’s always in the present. It’s today. So it's tragic. A sense of tragedy, of tragic.... It will repeat. It will come again. It will be the same. That's what I feel with Ventura. Well, there's a lot of things, in dialogues, in moments in the film that says that thing, [INAUDIBLE]. Stupid things, that you...
Haden Guest 13:55
But this is a film, I mean, thinking about the relation of the past to the present. I mean, this is a film that's deeply haunted. In which, you know, both the living and the dead seem to intermingle. Both the past and the present. And so this is a film with multiple layers, I think, quite literal but temporal. But then also, I actually want to talk a bit about the space that this film explores. It's such an interior film. We're constantly sort of burrowing. It begins with this sort of plunge into the Stygian depths. And I was wondering if you could speak a bit about the film spatially, because it seems that this is such an extraordinary film in the way it defines and is constantly expanding and sculpting space. And it seems that that space is also a kind of time passage, as, you know, Ventura is encountering these phantoms that are both present and past. And they seem to be tied to certain places and moments. I was wondering if you could speak about how the film was conceptualized, or developed, spatially?
Pedro Costa 15:07
Well, I knew that we were going to do a film completely in this prison, in this metaphor. I don't know. The film began... Well, the story of the film is, we should have shot the first part of the film that we never shot. It was a very long musical moment that now became this part with this song. You see a lot of people in the neighborhood, just… That was supposed to be a long sequence and actually composed and played by a musician called Gil Scott-Heron. And he died three years ago. So then we stopped, because he was going to compose the music, play, write, do a lot of things. And so we stopped and I was a bit lost and I had to rethink a lot of things. And the first thing we shot just after that was the elevator, which was a big sequence and long and difficult for Ventura. And actually for the other guy, the soldier. It was very difficult for him because he's the world champion of immobilism. He really is. It’s a Portuguese quality: immobilism.
No, it really is. We are the world champions. That's what it's called, the guys who actually do the street statues. But it was very difficult for him because the paint is very toxic. So he can stand one hour and after that he has to change. And it was very long and painful for him. And we did that for two months. And I think the elevator then told us that we could not get away from this kind of confinement. But I think I’m made for these things. I'm not made for forests or… There are other guys that do that very well, so why should I do forests? That's the only answer I have for you. [LAUGHS] But the truth is, with all the dangers involved, I like the limitations and everything. I think they give me more…. I don't know, I can work better in small spaces, or small spaces that open to another smaller space until we are so confined that we have to go back and find our way out. And it's a danger because we can… Well, a prison is not a good place for anyone, not even, well, not to do artistic things, I think. But that's the way it is. I like small rooms. [LAUGHS]
Haden Guest 18:56
And what were the actual spaces? I mean, just out of curiosity. Like this factory, that…
Pedro Costa 19:01
And then there was this idea of, like witchcraft through the ages, you know. Hospitals, since the beginning of time, should have an idea that this began, I don't know, in the 14th century or 12th century, with the Romans. So there is a kind of a Roman perfume and then factory perfume. All the horrors of.... It's not only hospitals and mental disease that you have this. You have a feeling of Ventura is a little bit crazy, but if you could also feel that he’s a little bit outside or just outside. It could be a prison also. He is, for me, a political prisoner, like all of them are that were in that neighborhood. And so I wanted to show a lot of different corridors and cells and textures of…
Politics, for me, is a little bit torture and basement and… Not a little bit. It's completely torture and basement and corruption. Corruption of the body and of the soul. So to find images for that, I don't know, I just followed the masters [CHUCKLE]. Because people, like we were discussing, Fritz Lang is the model for these kind of problems, I think. If you see a number of films, and I'm not even referring to M or... But it's the same idea, that politics is an everlasting presence. Torture. A group of gangsters that get together to fuck us, completely. Prime ministers, ministers, secretaries, power. And it all takes place in very dark and subterranean worlds that are very photogenic.
Haden Guest 21:38
And hence, the final image. The quote from M.
Pedro Costa 21:42
I didn't think of that, no. Now I see it, but it's just because Ventura likes knives. There's a story with knives. And that it had to go back to the beginning or to the… And yeah, I saw this shop. Yeah, it seemed the right thing.
Haden Guest 22:14
I spoke earlier about sculpture, and you know, I feel like this film has these... There's such a sort of sculptural dimension to the film. The way in which you have statues that speak and your actors seem to become statues at different times. And I was wondering if you could reflect a bit on sculpture and your cinema. I ask this keeping in mind your recent collaboration with a sculptor, Ray Chávez, and the show that's going up in Korea that was recently in Lisbon, and this sort of ongoing collaboration that you've had with this great sculptor.
Pedro Costa 22:52
I don't know. It's too difficult. No, because I don't have very interesting ideas about that. I feel some things, the small, small, small things in Ventura that I thought could... Small gestures is so… Yeah it's very difficult to talk about. It involves, yeah, the loneliness, that are already a part of Ventura that is already dead. And not only Ventura. Ventura is a metaphor for social class. Workers, factory workers, immigrants, pioneers. People try to live a decent life, people like that. And there's a part of that that is already very statuesque in an awful way. And what you see in statues are always very... it's very mortuary, it’s very… Except, perhaps, in Russia and China, I don't know. But in Europe and here, it's always, I don't know, kings, queens, soldiers. And, yeah, there's a part of my film that tends to this form. But I don't like to talk about that because I know it has something to do with death, and everything that has to do with death, it's not good to talk about.
Haden Guest 24:52
But there's also something where we have these statues, the fountains, that statue that we see of some sort of angel, where they’re mute. And they're sort of monuments to a past. And yet, you have these figures that are like living statues that are, nevertheless, are speaking, channeling the past. They're living the past. So, at certain levels, it’s like a different kind of monument to the past.
Pedro Costa 25:19
Yeah, so it could be a long walk. It has this, well, this form. The film has a form that could be... It's very nocturnal. It's very… If you would like to be poetic…. So it's a bit like in this kind of voyage where those statues and animals can speak and move. Sometimes they move an eye. Or you think you saw something. It's this kind of feeling. You think you saw that guy moving. It's this kind of feeling. But nothing more than that, it was supposed to be.
In the beginning I had much more statues. I shot a lot. I have a collection of statues on our hard disks. We have the soldiers, the poets, and everything. But then I thought it was better to have this… We’ll save it just for the soldier and have some.... I think everything in the film Ventura says two times, at least. Or somebody says something and Ventura repeats it. It was my way of, not writing, but assembling a lot of feelings or ideas I had that I wanted to be very, or more or less, clear. One of them is… I don't know if you feel it, but there is a dead guy also floating in this film. The guy who was probably dead, or that Ventura killed probably, or perhaps not. But there is Vitalina's husband. She says he's dead, and I wanted all the film, also... That doesn't come across, but it's... I wanted all of the film to be like a walk through a big cemetery. And these statues are a little bit [like] the things you have in graveyards. And they are protecting, and the angels, or bad angels that you have over the crypts. It's small things, like it's not very… [LAUGHS]
Haden Guest 28:12
Well, I’d actually love to just, if we could speak a little bit, before we take questions from the audience, about working with Ventura. I mean, the film is so Faulknerian in a certain sense, where we have this flow between past and present, and the incantatory quality described of, you know, things being repeated more, you know, usually twice or sometimes it seems like even more. The way in which speech and song at times are one. And I was wondering if you could speak about how this sort of memory narrative took form, and how it was that you worked together. You described it as coming out of this, you’re shared memory, and the distance you had from the same event. So how did it continue from there, and how did you decide who were the characters? How did they emerge?
Pedro Costa 29:00
I'm really sorry, but I cannot explain it or tell it like... More than the other films, perhaps this one is... Perhaps it was easier to edit. For the montage, the editing moment was perhaps even a little bit easier than the others I think, strangely. But to assemble, to build this story, if we can call it a story, that was difficult. Because it's dispersed, it's fragmentary, it's here and there. It's vague, it’s very vague. It's vague because it comes from vagueness, comes from hesitation, from failure, comes from everything that is not solid and Ventura is not certain of anything now. He's very afraid. He doesn't expect anything anymore. So the collection of things he has to tell me are very dispersed, very…. And I'm not... What is my responsibility? You know? it's not to make it coherent or logical. That's not my job. I mean, I think. I did it my way like...
Haden Guest 30:59
Frank Sinatra. [LAUGHS]
Pedro Costa 31:00
That's my job, doing it my way with things that he proposes. What's interesting, I think, and there we are getting to... but it's not only Ventura. Vitalina is a great example, also. The good thing is that this unknown that I'm trying to... This unknown is what makes the film. You should not be afraid of that. You should welcome this part of.... It's very, very dark most of the time, for me. It's like a pit with all the awful things that you can imagine. I mean, the torture, the pain, the loneliness, the tears. Everything. Everything that, in the end, with this kind of form, the soldier tells him, “You're nothing, you will have nothing. We will die. We are already dead,” and all of this. It's things that I imagine, I suspect, from what Ventura gives me. And I've been saying this all along, it's the space between us. It's the space between us that is here. So I cannot explain it better than this. It's a very big black hole. But I accept this thing with respect and admiration and fear. So it's very, very painful to do a film like this. I don't know if you can imagine, but it really is very difficult. It's not only the normal pain in doing a film, which is always very tiring, disappointing. But in this case, the disappointment is not on that side, you know, “our dream is not coming through.” “That shot is not good enough.” It's not that. Something much more frightening that I am so afraid that could come through that I stop sometimes, because it's too violent for him, for me, even for the others. Vitalina, the woman is very... There's a moment where I cannot stand it anymore. Perhaps this has something to do with the power of… I think there is something in the Rosselini film about this. About the frightening power of the– I think he says, the ascetic image. So something... The statue, it's too much sometimes, when it doesn't really move, it’s too much. And they are petrified in pain. And that's too violent for me, so I have to cut sometimes or go to something else.
Haden Guest 35:01
In what ways is this film about Ventura and this community, sort of trapped in a sort of strange amber of the past? And in what ways is this a portrait, would you say, of Portugal perhaps?
Pedro Costa 35:15
It's one facet. It's one face of things that I feel have a part, play a part, in what we are. But not only Portugal, I think. I hope. It has nothing to do with Africans or African immigrants. It has to do with immigration or exile or… I think so, yeah. But yeah, it's something very real and that plays an important part in how things evolved since… It's very, I told in the beginning, it's very autobiographical because I lived this. I experienced something that, I don't know, nobody here lived. And I'm calling this a revolution, I don't know if it was a revolution. It felt… It smelled... like teen spirit.
Perhaps it was a revolution. I thought it was. But exactly that moment when Ventura was very afraid, he described it, “Me and my brothers, we were hiding behind the bushes, seeing the soldiers and all of those with red banners.” And so one of those with the red banners– I was there and I was robbing the Spanish Embassy, Embajada de España, with João Botelho, another filmmaker.
A lot of us were there, sacking the embassies, and, yeah, turning everything upside down. And this, ‘74 and ‘75 were very, very strange years. For me, I was twelve and thirteen, so I was discovering everything at the same time. It was the years I started seeing films, also, music, this happens. Everything. My sentimental life was, you know, revolution, punk rock, Ozu. Stuff like that. At the same time. So it’s incredible.
Haden Guest 38:13
Pedro Costa 38:15
John Ford, everybody. So, and since I met Ventura, I don't know, fifteen years ago, or more, he's been telling me about this moment that for him was the beginning of this prison, this madness, this loneliness, this... Because he was not sure. They were not sure. A lot of people were afraid and it doesn't mean they were reactionary or... On the contrary. I understand that completely. He was just afraid of losing his contract, like he says. He doesn't, he didn't know. He was afraid of the movement, of that crowd. So when he told me, “I was here at five o'clock,” like all filmmakers, I think, it begins a process of complete madness in my head, trying to figure out where I was the 11th of March ‘75. When he was at this place, I was three streets down below. So I'm trying to pinpoint myself, relating to [history]. That's how the film started. Where was I when he was there and, yeah, stuff like that.
Haden Guest 39:55
Let’s take some questions from the audience. I’m sure you have some. Just raise your hand and there will be microphones that will come to you if you have any questions about this. [PAUSE] All reflecting.
Actually, I'd love to speak, actually, about the light in the film. I feel like this is a film in which we have these pitch blacks and then this sort of blinding, blinding light. You know, that sort of light in the hospital? I was wondering if you could speak about the ways in which, you know, you worked with the light. You know, perhaps sculpturally, perhaps thinking, almost, in sort of black-and-white terms.
Pedro Costa 40:33
Well, it's very, it's again… It's very serious and, at the same time, it's completely childish. It's very serious because it's very hard work. Because we are, as you saw, three or four. Two for the sound, two for camera. That's all. So it's very hard work, anyway, even with the small cameras. And then because, I think I've been saying this everywhere, and I'm talking with DP’s and people: it's much more difficult now to get to something interesting with digital than it was before. It's very painful because digital is stuck in something that doesn't move really, it doesn't have really…
Haden Guest 41:34
Pedro Costa 41:35
Yeah, and it's... So some technicians give up. They say, “Okay, it's like this, It's like this.” Or some that don't really care. And the labs don't exist anymore, more or less. What we called “color correction” or “grading” is done at home. I'm not for this kind of specialization, I mean, departments of imaging, very professional things. But I'm talking about caring for this stuff, the craft. And it's not even in the cameras, you know? When I started with the first small cameras I bought—I've always been repeating this—I think they did it like they had– The special point was that they wanted to sell cameras to, so that we could move the camera. So I just stopped, I just… The camera stood still. And that was different. And in thinking like that, if she stops I have to think about the light. Because if you move it, you cannot see the light. Because light comes from everywhere. There's no perspective. There's no origin. But the cameras want that because they seem to have stickers on them saying, “Move me, shake me, turn me upside down, do whatever you want. I can do everything.” [LAUGHTER] And it's not true. You cannot do everything. You have to edit, choose your frame, compose, frame, etc. And it's becoming very difficult to do something interesting. Just interesting. So we have to work, I don't know, much more. Much more time to get to something that we're happy [with]. And to have something in the faces, you know, the color of the faces. Working with people with dark skin is even more difficult for us because they have more contrast. The light is more hard and shapes are difficult to design. To sketch. So...
But it's nice work. It's a work I like. It’s a part of our work that I like doing. And I chose to do it myself also. Because I found this way of production that gives me that freedom to be… I’m my own producer, more or less, so I can decide. I'm now in the position of waiting for like the other guys, the extra. If the extra doesn't feel well we won’t shoot. We think about the shot or the dialogue. So that's one thing. And we're shooting with very small cameras. This is not a big thing. It's smaller. But everything is getting smaller. In five years everything will be very small. And yeah, the rest is very... There's a part of something inside me that relates to light that has always been there. Or I know it by heart. But it comes more, I could say, from other stuff. From, probably, more from poetry than from films. But of course, if you see this film, it will remind you of other films, not of books. But for me, it comes from books. Not being pretentious, but it's more comes from poetry books that I like. And I try to remember—I didn't try to remember—I remembered stuff from some poetry that I like. Portuguese that you wouldn’t know.
Haden Guest 46:10
I mean, in terms of color it seems like this is one of the most expressive works and I realize this kind of complexity that must have gone into the post-production, in terms of color correction. There’s like, you know, the gold of the statue and the gold of Ventura’s, you know, pajama. That penultimate shot where you have this almost Maxfield Parrish, you know, sky and then that arch of burnished stone. And so I was wondering if you could speak a bit about the color, like the way in which you felt of the film in terms of colors.
Pedro Costa 46:45
It's like... choosing your masters? [Remembering]. Good memory. Not forgetting. Being faithful. Being curious and patient. Jacques Tati used to say, “Too many colors distract.” So you begin with three or four colors. And everything that is a bit too much you try to restrain. Or it's again, the kind of limitation that serves you sometimes. It's not creating a palette of something, it’s just really you should be… Because that way, I think, some things become very, mmm.... Like Ventura's reds. I think that becomes really striking. It's even so striking that we couldn't control that color in the grading. We couldn't. It escaped us completely. Like it's a really completely crazy red. But it's there and it has meaning, probably. Certainly, because it's there, so violent.
And that comes from closing a lot of doors, probably. It's very instinctive. It's done when we're working also. And also, we have to be– I mean, we accept some things. We say, “Yeah, let's do it. It's this way. We, yeah, we should do it this way.” So there's a moment when you decide that that's the way you should do it. The walls and stuff like that. Yeah.
Haden Guest 49:13
Any questions? We’ve got one in the back right there.
Audience 1 49:18
I feel like you have an uncanny way of giving your films over to the subjects and that you're really able, more than any documentary filmmaker I know, to portray what seems like a real inner world and reality of some of the characters you work with. And it's rare I think that one feels you, specifically you in your film, it's more as if you give that space over to the world of the characters. And I thought the elevator scene was absolutely extraordinary, just stunningly beautiful. And the gold and the silver reflection, and the acting was stunning. And I was wondering, I didn't quite understand the position of the soldier in relation to the state. But that wasn't exactly what interested me. It was more his position in relation to Ventura and to what had... to this sense of what had or hadn't happened in the film and his taking on the knife, perhaps and helpfulness, etc. And the gesture, the positions that you put him in was absolutely beautiful. I was wondering if you saw yourself in that figure, partly, because it felt like it was, it was a very moving powerful figure. The soldier as well as Ventura in that sequence. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that character.
Pedro Costa 50:40
Difficult, difficult. But it's a way of showing off [CHUCKLE]. It's the best way of showing off. Of being extravagant, of being… Because Ventura is very ashamed of certain things that I think he shouldn't be ashamed of. And I am too, of doing certain things. I've told you about the limitations that we chose to impose [on] ourselves. And the soldier has a kind of, it’s the only… Well, perhaps some things in the film are a bit, I dunno, bigger. But the soldier is extravagant. It can be a woman, sometimes. I think it is a woman. Not just because he hears a voice of the woman, but you know, the pose. The pose is something. Posing is something. He’s posing. A statue is always a pose. A pose is something terrifying also and very... that we do every day, of every second. And what kind of moment is that? What are we doing? Posing and conveying for somebody else for society. In the coffee shop. In the street.
The soldier has a lot of stuff and not only the political stuff that people are writing about. That annoys me completely because it's not only that the poet is the poet. The soldier is a poet, and [he] really is a poet. [He’s] the one that says what Ventura wants to say, but with certain… In another corridor of… And actually, there are some things that he says that come from a lot of different places. There’s a little bit of Tolstoy, even, there in the end. So there's lots of things.
It's the one way, perhaps there are others, I’m not sure. I don't know. It's a way we have of being a bit bold and extravagant without hurting my feelings and Ventura's feelings. Without going too far in that. Keeping that black ocean I was talking about that is beyond, that is in the middle of our two personalities. We don't cross it, but it's a way of throwing things from one side to the other. So: “You're like that,” “No, I'm not.” Things like that. I don't know.
What I see now in the soldier is feminine. I don't know why, this is stupid, completely. But now I see a woman. It's very strange. It’s because of the guy who did this is very... He was so gentle in doing this part of the film. As I told you, it was very painful for him. It was not easy. Even for the world champion, it's not. And I think he understood this in a way that was very, very nice, very gentle, very still. What can we say? There's a stillness that is real, that is there. There is an expression that can, that… But yeah, it's a way of breaking the glass or has to do with, how do you say, pudor?
Haden Guest 55:19
Pedro Costa 55:21
Haden Guest 55:23
Pedro Costa 55:25
It's, yeah, it's more than that. Pudor? Is there a French [person] here? No. It’s between being… [SIGHS] What's the word in English?
Haden Guest 55:48
Pedro Costa 55:52
Pudor. No, it's much more than that. Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah, probably. No, which involves a little bit of, a little bit of, not fear, but just...
Haden Guest 56:15
[LAUGHS] The highest bidder.
Pedro Costa 56:18
It's before and after that. Pudor. It's a part of, it's one of the components of this feeling.
Haden Guest 56:35
There's another question. Yes.
Pedro Costa 56:47
Not being pretentious. Foucault, you know, Michel Foucault wrote a lot about the pudor and impudor. The boldness, the not being ashamed, and you retract, or... I don't know the word. Perhaps there is no...
Audience 2 57:01
People often like to talk about the sculptural aspects of the image. But I think that your sound work is also just as sculptural as the image. And I think back to Ossos and the Wire track and the versions of it, and the sounds of the revolution spilling from outside in Colossal Youth. In this one I feel like there's a move towards a different kind of sound, or different use of sound, especially with non-diegetic sound, music. I wanted to know if that was a new strategy for you, if it's a reinforcement of older ideas, and how it plays a part in the narrative construction of the film.
Pedro Costa 57:40
No, I think it just had to do with Gil Scott-Heron in the beginning because it started like that. Well, I knew I wanted to do a film about more or less what's here. This moment, the moment when Ventura gets into this mode, in this prison mode. And then I met Gil Scott-Heron and I knew his music. I knew his writings. Of course, there is a– I don't know if you know Gil Scott-Heron, if you have his face present, but it's exactly like Ventura’s. His brother, twins. Of course, I remembered that, and then I proposed both of them talk and try a dialogue without one knowing Portuguese or Creole and the other English. So, and it wasn't just this idea. And he said “yes,” Heron said “yes.” He had some ideas that were a bit different from this, but interesting. I think it would be a big... a little bit like the statue, with music all the time. A long rap. A long, long, two-hour rap. Could be interesting. Difficult to put to form, image form, but… So we would play the music I think. Sing, Ventura would sing. And I thought it could be completely sung, the film would be just… So, it, I think it began like that and that this idea left some traces, some… It stayed, a little bit, with all the voices. The text that Scott-Heron was writing was a very collective text, let's say. This is a metaphor, but the people talked, as one guy was the people. People [were] talking. People talk. So something... Still hear a lot of voices. Children, women, bad, good. Or bad guys, the good guys. A little bit of music from this group, Cape Verdean group. This political song, message. And the pleasure that Ventura has still today, in singing, which I should do something else with him because he loves to sing. He sings. He knows it's very present every day. Then, well, it took this form, it took this way. There’s a bit more music in this one than the others. But… I don’t know.
Haden Guest 1:01:17
Any other questions or comments? Yes. One more... Actually, if you could just wait for the microphone.
Audience 3 1:01:27
It’s interesting when you talk about the unknowability of Ventura, in particular, I really feel that part of the power of the film—and I've seen in others of your films too—is that the people are unknowable. They're not reducible to their experience, however we might try to frame it. Even in terms of suffering, or extremity and exile. There's always some sense that they're just completely unmediated. I don’t know how else to explain it. But, to me, it comes through in Vitalina, also, in this film. For example, you know, when she's reading almost in kind of like incantations, these documents that are so Other, really. And there’s a moment when she's actually crying, and I felt that, that again, whatever that is, that they are, is so completely Other than the documents. And then there's the moment when she puts the beads on the desk, and somehow there's a feeling that she… There's something other through her, that's able to configure experience. I don't know how to interpret it. I mean, I don’t know that much about Cape Verdean culture, but there’s just something coming through in that complete unknowability that’s very powerful. That to me is even more powerful than the terms in which it’s represented in the film. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Pedro Costa 1:03:26
Yes, at the same time that we are very [UNKNOWN] and [UNKNOWN], the three or four that do these films with me, we like this confinement… formal or economical, ideological, perhaps, I don't know. There is always this… can always be more than that. We can always go a little bit more deeply into something. And that work does not depend that much on me, sometimes. Depends on the relations we have, the sentimental bonds we have now. But it's something that I'm very– I was talking about that today and I started thinking about it if… I remembered that the text... Everything is connected. But I've learned a lot from also things written by people about films. I'm not ashamed, so… And one of the people that wrote, for me, the greatest things about film is Rivette, Jacques Rivette. And he has a text about, I think it's about Fritz Lang, I'm not sure, where he says more or less that film, or cinema, is about fascination and rape. And this film is a lot about rape, actually. You cannot avoid it, really. You cannot avoid the rape. I was talking about that somewhere today. And you try to be careful. You try not to go... Just talking about Vitalina was a difficult, delicate situation in this film, everything that involved her, because she's new in our group. She was doing for the first time what she does. It’s not easy. And suddenly she cried, really, for herself. Not for the other... And that surprised me and moved me very much because she was talking about her husband, Ventura, people, the Cape Verdeans’ life. And when she talked about her, she cried. That was the moment when she cried. So that, perhaps, I'm quoting now Rivette and this thing, because even if you try with all the– if you're a serious filmmaker, you try not to hurt too much while you're doing the job, the work. You try to stay… Of course, it involves some morals, some decent behavior on all levels. But, like Rivette says, it's about rape and fascination. It's terrible. It's a very terrible machine. You can use the word machine here completely. And I'm thinking about that. Just thinking. I'm not just saying this loud, because there is a part of rape, actually, in this film that is very obvious for me now. But well, I mean, this is going a bit too… Yes, we were very moved because she was doing this work. Heavy, concentrated work on the film. And the moment when she broke was the moment when she read her birth note, document. That was very strange for all of– not many, but three of us were there. It was very.... Yes, but I'm very fascinated by how deep you can go in a film. I've always been. Sometimes I go too much, I think, and that's why the films are what they are.
Haden Guest 1:09:16
I mean, it's...
Pedro Costa 1:09:18
It's a bit too black, deep, complicated. Perhaps too much, I don’t know.
Haden Guest 1:09:25
I mean, I just wanted to... This idea of rape or violation I think is so, I don’t know, so strong and provocative. I just wanted to just try to go a little bit further try to kind of understand it myself. And it seems to me that yes, this is a film in which we see these… It’s a certain breaking down, and the kind of, you know, this difficult, a sort of address with wounds that are still open and being actually opened even further in some ways. But at the same time, doesn't there seem to be some kind of grappling, some kind of attempt at the same time to come to terms with this path? To try to heal in some ways? And I find myself... Like this ending, going out into the world suggests that maybe there's some kind of…?
Pedro Costa 1:10:10
I don’t know. I'm not sure. I have no opinion on that. I think the film is very strict, very tough on itself. I think it's... It’s not provocative or it’s not the knives or stuff like that. It's just like they used to do it in the old days, you know. He's going back to the knives, to the drink, to the alcohol, to drugs, to killing people or to... Just like they used to do it in those... I don't know. I'm not sure. I have no opinion there.
And what I'm saying is perhaps if there is something good… It's what I've been saying. It's the feeling we have, or I have, is that we make the films to forget, not to remember, even if the first… It seems that we are doing stuff with memory and it is memories that we all have about stuff. The film is really made to forget. To put a, say, a stone over this. Forget.
Hayden Guest 1:11:46
Pedro Costa 1:11:50
Exorcise means becoming the one you used to be. I don't think it's that. Going back to your face, to your old face, true face. I think, there is in this film a very, very terrible feeling of decay. I don't know how to say this, but my back is aching just saying. Decay. We are going to die very soon. Sooner than you think! [LAUGHING] No, I'm joking. No, but it's not that we are trying to do that, but it's, we do not have time enough to do those kind of things. We have to think about other stuff. And Ventura has to… That's why I sometimes explain this thing with Scott-Heron, because it was supposed to be, probably, much more a kind of manifesto or, you know, long poem. Sung. Song and not dance. But the ways they used to do it in, you know, the 70s with music, or some films. I don't know, I don’t have an example. That was the challenge. I wanted to do, I don't know, it was not the same form, but I like those, the Dziga Vertov films by Godard. I like those things. I like the provocation and this vaudeville, the theater involved in that. Nothing that has to do with this, because this... Then you think you're doing something and you're doing the opposite. But I think this elevator machine. Just, it's that mode, that elevator. It gave us a kind of mood and tone that we couldn't escape for the other sequences. Even with Vitalina there’s this damnation. This very, very strong feeling of black. Black thing over our heads, especially Ventura and Vitalina, too. It needed a little bit more humor, perhaps. [LAUGHING] Dance? No, because we've seen things like... I read things like this, more read than... Like the elevator, lots of things like this. I mean, Beckett, for instance, is a bit like this, no? Stuff like that, but it's more joyful. This is very heavy, I think, no? I don't know if you… No, but I got lost. One thing I wanted to say is that you… One of the purposes of this is to… Ventura is that kind– I have a great, great admiration, because he is the one I wanted to be. He's the guy that doesn't have an opinion. And that's marvelous, I think. He doesn't have an opinion. He just is. And it's not that he doesn't care. Of course he cares. He has a family. He loves people. He likes singing. He likes animals, and flowers, and food, and drinks. But he doesn't have an opinion. And he’s not a victim. It’s like in the old days we used to say, “a martyr,” he’s one of the martyrs in the story, so… With all the complications inside of this film, the political and sentimental, and its complications and difficulties, and tours and detours, I think it's a film that says, “Get rid of all your opinions, get rid of stuff like that.” It's very, very raw. It's very naked in some ways that's... So now I have to go think about this rape thing.
Pedro Costa 1:17:39
But, if you want to….
Haden Guest 1:17:42
Well, I think if there’s...
Pedro Costa 1:17:43
Not rape me, but ask something.
Haden Guest 1:17:46
Is there…? I think with that we all have a lot to think about. And we have a lot to thank Pedro Costa for. Please join me in thanking Pedro Costa.
Pedro Costa 1:17:55
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