quarta-feira, 2 de junho de 2010

Cinema Scope Top Ten Films of the Decade

Olivier Père

In Vanda’s Room (2000) by Pedro Costa

Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa’s fourth feature In Vanda’s Room, right from its earliest screenings, has become a kind of manifesto of modern, contemporary cinema, a truly “clandestine” masterpiece, at times intimidating in its formal magnificence, and yet also tangible proof of the urgency and power still possible in a form of cinema that is free, uncompromising, political and poetic. Cinema is all about encounters. Pedro Costa set himself up with a DV camera in Fontaihanas, a slum in the Lisbon suburbs, spending months filming Vanda, her sister Zita and a few others who are living in a state of almost total destitution and poverty. Vanda spends most of her time taking drugs, arguing with her sister, working in a paltry part-time job. The film has little to do with documentary, damning reportage or ethnological recording. The maniacal framing, compositions, the camera’s relentless fixity, bear witness to both a concern for absolute stylisation and total attention to the slightest accidents of reality. In Vanda’s Room is a work of art in which life burst into every shot. A punk heir apparent to Straub and Ozu, a bridge between a silent cinema aesthetic and the possibilities offered by digital in terms of light and running time, Costa is filming not so much despair as the resistance of a small community, forgotten by all, that survives in a kind of self-sufficiency, amidst getting high, dealing and prostration. Enclosed in a tiny room with his heroin-hungry heroine, Costa rediscovers the raw energy of early cinema, and revives the evocative power of a recording art. Blocs of images and time, Costa’s films do not seek to illuminate destitution, but rather to glorify the pride and rebellion of the have-nots, through an intensified realism and observation that opens up magical perspectives, close to voodoo trance.

Olivier Père is artistic director of the Locarno International Film Festival.

Cyril Neyrat

If the films were classified in order of preference, In Vanda’s Room would occupy first place. It’s by chance that Costa’s film tops a chronological ordering: of the ten cited, it is undoubtedly the only one whose importance can be immediately measured against the scale of cinema history. In Vanda’s Room launched a new epoch, imposed a new barometer against which subsequent films would be measured, whether or not they chose to be. Saying so is not assuming that there is but one history of the cinema, a linear, unequivocal understanding of the art and its possibilities. On the contrary, the history of art is an anachronic tissue made of leaps, survivals, retakes (or reappearances), and the contemporaneity of several evolutions, which are sometimes contradictory. But if one must invent and imagine a history, then certain films distinguish themselves by their critical strength, in the double sense of “crisis” and “decision.” Within the dark light of In Vanda’s Room, all of the cinema from the ‘00s appears to be in crisis, divided between the repetition ad nauseam of old industrial and/or auteurist formulas, and the chance, that Costa indicates, of a path toward a new beginning.

This new beginning is paradoxical. It’s a return to the origin, but not a tabula rasa. The invention of a new primitivism, of a new elementary simplicity, without denying the legacy of a century of cinema and the arts. On the contrary, this history has blended in the very matter of the image, it survives like a ghost, it illuminates from afar like an original constellation—in opposition to quotation, detours, and other malicious and morbid games from the two previous decades. More than a return to the origin, it’s a return of the origin, of its native power.

Certainly the advent of digital filmmaking would have hastened this new beginning, making manifest the image’s plastic and material information, permitting new practices, upsetting the economy of films. There also, Costa is first to fully use digital shooting in order to reinvent, from a sumptuous poverty, a chronicle in small scale (In Vanda’s Room), and in epic scale (Colossal Youth, which like Où gît votre sourire enfoui? would have figured on the list if space was not needed for others).

Cyril Neyrat lives and films in Rome, teaches in Geneva, and writes in various places. He used to write for Cahiers du Cinéma and was the editor of Vertigo.