Vitalina Varela: Portuguese Pedro Costa’s Movie is Top Winner at 2019 Locarno Film Fest

The 72nd Locarno Film Festival ended Saturday, August 17, with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela earning major awards and special praise from jury president Catherine Breillat.

In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress to its eponymous star, Breillat was said that Costa’s achievement goes beyond awards, occupying place in the cinema pantheon.

Costa was the most prominent name in the International Competition selection this year, which marked Lili Hinstin’s first edition as festival director.

Other awards in the main section went to Park Jung-bum’s “Height of the Wave” (Special Jury Prize) and Damien Manivel as best director for “Isadora’s Children.”

The work of Pedro Costa, the austere Portuguese director, is little known in the U.S., despite major accomplishments with Colossal Youth (2006) and In Vanda’s Room (2000), both shown at the Cannes Film Fest, and other hauntingly dark features.

Costa’s Locarno Fest winning film, Vitalina Varela, is a companion piece to last year’s Horse Money, focusing on the eponymous character who first appeared as a supporting player in Horse Money, which had also premiered at the 2014 Locarno Fest, where it won Best Director.

Costa’s film tells the true story of its protagonist Vitalina, a Cape Verde woman who arrives at Lisbon airport just days after the funeral of her estranged husband.  Disembarking barefoot, she is greeted by some cleaning women, who tell her “There’s nothing here for you.” Instead, Vitalina goes to her husband’s slum, and remains in this foreign land that’s unable to offer her any support.

Costa’s idiosyncratic style is marked by slow static shots and stark white lighting, set in the back alleys of Lisbon’s Fontainhas neighborhood, the director’s signature site.