Outtakes: Pedro Costa

Pedro Costa  

WHO is he?

Portuguese scenarist, cinematographer and director who has directed eight feature films and as many short films since his debut in 1989 with The Blood, a highly stylised work showcasing the director’s passion for and knowledge of film history. He won the Best Director prize at this year’s edition of the Locarno Film Festival for his latest movie Horse Money (2014).

WHAT are his films about?


Costa’s early films evidence him playing with decidedly ‘cinephilic’ themes where he appears to be riffing on archetypical ideas from European cinema of his youth. Many of his later films are set in Lisbon’s Fontainhas locality. The immigrant residents of this great slum and the subjects of Costa’s works have a spectral presence, leading a self-enclosed life seemingly spent in endless chatter, drug abuse and ghost-like wandering. Costa’s non-judgmental attention is on the government’s physical and social marginalisation of these inhabitants of Fontainhas, whose resilience nevertheless becomes the focus of the films.


Costa’s films are characterised by an austere style, with no musical soundtrack, long shots of people, often indoors, a marked lack of dialogue, lengthy sequences of dead time where not much significant action occurs, expressionistic compositions that counterpoint organic human forms with geometric structural ones and deep contrast imagery. Costa tackles the problem of potential exploitation of his characters by making them contributors to his films. By collaborating with them on their declamatory dialogue delivery and synthetic body language, he helps them become the active voice of the works and not the passive subjects of a conventional social-realist documentary.

WHY is he of interest?

Along with the Taiwanese cineaste Tsai-Ming Liang, Pedro Costa is perhaps the most avant-garde of filmmakers working today, trying to find newer, challenging idioms that resist the impatient modern viewer’s tendency to gloss over images. More importantly, his filmography comes across as a guiding beacon for artists who want to wed formal experimentation with social consciousness without having to compromise either.

WHERE to discover him?

Change Nothing (2009), one of Costa’s few films not socially oriented, centres on French actress and singer Jeanne Balibar and her group rehearsing, improvising and performing a group of songs. Shot in digital video, this gorgeous film is a reflexive meditation on the artistic process, the hard work that belies the mysterious air of preordained genius and perfection that a great work carries.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 1:34:59 AM |

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