Hero Worship: Pedro Costa

Filmmaker and cineaste D W Mault explains why he worships Portuguese director Pedro Costa, and the oppressive stillness of his cinema

The curse of influence is one that should be judged from afar, like an unknown decade-long love affair spoken of years later in hateful nostalgia… Cinema is an artform that is cursed by the affluence of influence; a merry takedown that arises like a stench from the miasma of uninteresting metteurs en scène that plague Anglo-Saxon cinema like the disease that they know themselves to be.

True inspiration comes at an unknown point when we are least expecting it; this happened to me at Cannes in 2006, when I settled down in the Lumière Theatre for the World Premiere of Pedro Costa’s Juventude Em Marcha. One should never attempt to describe the indescribable, and the power of the cinema of Costa dies a slow death every time an attempt is levelled at looking too closely; for the primary function of cinema is to make us feel that something isn’t right, which makes us ponder why we have been left among the confederacy of dunces of 21st century humanity.

Pedro Costa makes films unlike any other; think about that concept for a moment… What does it mean to stare at something until it becomes an alternative ideal for the promise of unified stillness? Comparisons may come and comparisons may go, but when watching Costa’s filming of the heroin addicts of Fountainhaus while they sit in squalid bedsits waiting for the force of death, I think of Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea anti-hero Antoine Roquentin and his belief that inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself. This is the whole idea of Costa and his idea of oppressive stillness; the fact of staring, looking or peering at objects/people: when you look at an ashtray for mere seconds it remains an ashtray; when you look at an ashtray for minutes at a time it becomes something else entirely.

Costa is a director who hides things, who closes doors, and you can open them, sometimes. Yet, to open the doors of his films is difficult, dangerous – it’s work. With his films it’s absolutely necessary that you must be outside, not on the screen. Sometimes, a single word can kill. I don’t know if it can save, but a single word can do some good when it is well spoken, well-crafted, well-thought, and delivered at just the right moment. That is to say, his word is in the films of Mizoguchi, Ozu or John Ford, it’s not in TV documentaries, or in news reports. A single gesture or glance of an actor can say a lot more about suffering, misery, or joy, than a documentary that shows everything. This is why Pedro Costa is very necessary; it’s why he sings to me and shows a way to attack the banality of accepted representations of what cinema isn’t: entertainment. He forces the idea of formalism down our throats and sits back, smiles and says: “That is enough.”


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