Vitalina Varela (2019): Pedro Costa’s Psychological Thriller–Character Study, Starring

Centering on the inner and outer life of one woman, Vitalina Varela is a personal film that bears all the trademarks of the work of acclaimed Portuguese director Pedro Costa. The film is intimate in details, rigorous in narrative structure, and visually impressive in style and compositions.

The film won the Golden Leopard and Best Actress Award at the 2019 Locarno Film Festival.

It was selected as the Portuguese entry for the 2020 Best International Feature Film Oscar, after Portugal’s first entry, Listen, was disqualified.

The tale follows its titular character, a Cape Verdean woman who arrives in Lisbon to meet her husband after 40 years.

Upon arriving, she finds out that he had died three days ago.

The story then follows Vitalina through the shanty town of Fontainhas as she tries to make sense of thee traces her husband left behind, discovering in the process his secrets and his illicit life.

Varela is a character who previously appeared in Pedro Costa’s Horse Money.

The film had its U.S. premiere at the 2019 New York Film Fest, and then played at the 2020 Sundance Film Fest. It got limited theatrical release by Grasshopper Film in February 2020, and on DVD and Blu-ray in September.

Costa is known for coaxing great performances from non-actors, and this movie is yet another sampler of his method, with the lead rendering a formidable grounded performance.