Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa began work on Ossos (1997) after receiving a bundle of letters from residents of Cape Verde, the former Portuguese colony and setting of his previous feature Casa de Lava (1994). The letters were addressed to friends living in a Lisbon neighbourhood called Fontaínhas, where a kind of pirate urbanization existed in this almost derelict space. Costa was clearly an outsider to this community, which makes his first foray into representing the neighbourhood so interesting. Ossos is marked by its juxtapositions: it at once serves as a realist documentary and formalist art film; there’s a repetition and variation of compositions that represent both Fontaínhas and Lisbon; and it’s a film that engenders a kind of local knowledge in the spectator while the subject remains continuously ambiguous. Ultimately, this aesthetic articulates the concept of the community, which is defined by a perpetual expansion that occurs for the viewer through developing this local knowledge. Through these aesthetic techniques, Ossos provokes the spectator’s consideration of how Fontaínhas and its community of inhabitants may be communicated by and to outsiders. This video essay looks at makes these observations through the lens of French theorist Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘Heterotopia’ – the consideration of ‘other spaces’ – as well as some spatial concepts from Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space.

This video essay is part of ISSUE FIVE of The Seventh Art. Ossos is available for viewing in North America on a handsome DVD from the Criterion Collection.