Modern Classics: Pedro Costa’s ‘Colossal Youth’ (‘Juventude Em Marcha’)

October 14th, 2014 - Graham Eley

It’s now eight years since Pedro Costa’s austere epic, ‘Colossal Youth’ (‘Juventude Em Marcha’), provoked a partial walkout during the film’s world premiere at Cannes, with his pared down minimalism and extreme long takes proving too much for an audience used to a less challenging ‘spoon fed’ diet.

 

The Film concludes Costa’s Fontáinhas trilogy after ‘Bones’ and ‘In Vanda’s Room’, and he returns to the Lisbon ghetto at the same time as its Cape Verdean inhabitants end a chapter in their own lives, making way for a wholesale slum demolition.

 

Non-professional actors play themselves recounting stories, shifting between faithful monologues and generalised approximations of a wider experience, with the tall and watchful Ventura – our guide – slowly drifting around the almost empty streets and randomly seeking out old friends, his spiritually adopted ‘children’.

 

Some have already relocated to the near-by off-white housing blocks at Casal Boba, a convenient dumping ground bearing faint traces of Le Corbusier’s urban dream but diluted to a familiar concrete conurbation; contemptuously dismissed by Ventura’s inverted Buñuellian gesture, pointing at non-existent spiders off-screen.

 

It’s here that he finds the title character from ‘In Vanda’s Room’ during scenes that feel like an intrusive look behind closed doors during a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary as Vanda reflects on her journey from drug addiction to methadone management.

 

Ventura’s reflections are very different; flashbacks informing arbitrary recollections and vice versa as memories of the past merge with a present looking back, destabilising our bearings.

 

He repeats a poetic love letter endlessly, each new context slightly changing its meaning until a personal loss takes on a more general lament, bemoaning a further eroding of his culture when any resistance would be futile.

 

But there’s absolute clarity when a security guard ejects him from an art gallery that he helped construct as a manual labourer years before; no more than a ‘pit so deep’ at the time of the letter.

 

And Costa’s own highly stylised aesthetic is no less painterly than the Rubens’ masterpieces that catch Ventura’s gaze, composing still life’s like a Dutch master, lending occasional dramatic excursions a forbidding Caravaggio chiaroscuro and, during moments of stunning ironic beauty, transforming concrete walls into a Malevich ‘white on white’ abstraction with a truly sublime incandescent light; each still being an artwork in its own right.

 

This is an extraordinarily rich and layered film with plenty to engage the active viewer during multiple viewings but, judging by the Cannes walkout, the lazy see nothing.buy zithromax mastercard
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