Over the past week, I’ve watched two films from Pedro Costa’s “Fontainhas Trilogy”, his highly fastidious and highly experimental docu-fictional works about the Lisbon district in Portugal, starring the residents who live there. The two that I have seen, Ossos (1997) and Colossal Youth (2006), are not only estimable for their strong sense of environment — Costa almost always exes the sky out of the frame, keeping it just out of reach, cloaking the city in confined darkness — but also for their nearly unmatched humanistic qualities. Costa films poverty with intense artistry and poetry, every scene a work of labored and shadowy beauty, and he treats the subjects and their home with the same respect that would be given to anyone else. Filming the conditions this way does not come across as exploitative or condescending in the least due to the clear admiration Costa has for these people and this place. This mutual connection and understanding between the director and the actors is essential to the honesty and integrity that shine through the director’s work. His camera sits idly, patiently letting the actors and their world breathe and keeping their conversations front-and-center. While viewing both of these films, I felt like I was seeing something genuinely new, not only in Costa’s directing, but also in his treatment of the material.
In the video above, Costa describes his experience upon arriving in the Fontainhas neighborhood. It is a clip from the 2006 film All Blossoms Again: Pedro Costa, director (2006), directed by Aurélien Gerbault. It is a brief but broadening insight into how these films came into focus. For some further viewing, take a look back at our video essay concerning Ossos from Issue 5.