Good and evil don’t exist in heaven or hell, they exist between people. The cinema exists for showing that, too. – Pedro Costa

Last night I saw Pedro Costa’s film Bones (Ossos) at the wonderful Amherst Cinema. If you live in the Five College area, please support this magnificent resource. They show an array of popular and “art house” films, as well as films you rarely have an opportunity to see in the theater.

We were lucky to have the filmmaker himself there to introduce the film and take questions afterwards.

This is a mysterious, exquisitely shot movie — fictional, but with the feel of a documentary. The setting is a slum on the outskirts of Lisbon. The pace is slow, but a meaning-filled slow that invites the observer to question and ponder the ambiguous significance of the elliptical plot and the equally ambiguous relationships between people.

Shot at night with little light, in crowded slum streets, or in interiors where the viewer is conscious of looking into a room, through a doorway or window, the visually the film is dark, color soaked, rich, and luminous.

Costa spoke at length —

  • About his definition of realism — being true, he said if I remember correctly, to something you knew as a child.
  • About the sexuality and tensions in the film — some of the female characters have a masculine aspect, the male characters feminine. The actor who played the father, in life a junky, told him that he felt more fragile than the baby he held.
  • About the significance of the baby: a metaphor for life and rebirth.

The film is full of near deaths and re-awakenings, of waiting.

The visuals reminded me of paintings by Vermeer — seeing through doors and windows to a private world that remains in some ways unknowable, intimate, forbidden. The colors looming out of darkness are reminiscent of Rembrandt or Goya’s late “black” paintings.

Costa on the cinema as an art of absence:

Griffith saw that the cinema could show things that everybody knows, that everybody wants to recognise, and at the same time, not show certain things which are very violent, which must be hidden. Griffith was the first to understand and experiment with the idea that cinema is an art which can make its strongest effect with the idea of absence, with the idea of cinema as an art of absence. To give a very simple example: you’ve seen a film that I made called Bones (1997), and what is not in Bones are, among many other things, drugs. There’s another absence in the film, and that’s you, but Ossos ends exactly like Mizoguchi’s film Street of Shame (1956), that is to say, there’s a girl who closes a door and who looks at you, and the door is closed on you. That means that you can’t enter this film. Starting from this moment, you yourself cannot enter…. After this closed door, a film is no longer possible. It’s terrible, so don’t come in. It’s a closed door for you. So, Ossos ends with a closed door….

I’ll summarise this. It’s very simple: I think, and I hope that you’ll agree with me, that Mizoguchi, Ozu, Griffith and Chaplin are the greatest documentary directors, and thus the greatest directors of life, of reality. They are the directors who hide things, who close the doors, and you can open them, sometimes.

From a seminar for Japanese students. Oh, just go read the whole thing.

It’s brilliant!


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