Saturday, February 8, 2014

Colossal Youth (2006) ✭✭✭✭

Colossal Youth is a deeply personal, unapologetic art film that isn’t the least bit interested in being entertaining, charming or even mildly fathomable. The film is an oblique glimpse into a few days in the life of a middle-aged Creole man (Mario Ventura Medina) who is being relocated by the Portuguese government from a condemned and hellish tenement into a bright, modern apartment.

But all is not well, for Ventura lives in a world of shadowy memories and gnawing regrets, and he spends much of the film meandering back and forth between his old and new digs, engaging in a series of one-sided conversations with people from his past, both real and imagined. Director Pedro Costa works in tightly controlled, meticulously blocked shots and his characters move with such lugubrious care it seems that a sudden breeze would topple them. 

Costa rarely allows his actors to move their heads, which creates an absorbed, yet distant intensity that can be quite unnerving to watch, but is highly effective at creating an atmosphere of deflated remorse. Ventura, who apparently cannot write, attempts to mentally compose a love letter to a mysterious woman shown briefly in the film’s opening scenes - brandishing a pairing knife and bellowing with anger and frustration – and his frequent recitations of this poetic missive sharply contrasts his absurd hopes and with his dire reality.

Despite the squalid grimness, Colossal Youth is quite beautiful to look at. Working mainly with available light, Costa’s characters never stray too far from windows, reinforcing themes of entrapment and powerlessness. Night scenes appear to be supplemented by small lighting instruments, creating focused pools of illumination that render a theatrical, surreal quality.

Anyone wishing to tackle this demanding work would do well to spend a few minutes boning up on Portuguese history, particularly the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution of the 1970s, prior to screening as it will greatly enhance one’s understanding of the film’s subtle complexities. Those who enjoy cryptic and challenging cinema will find Colossal Youth a worthy and enthralling watch. Those who don’t should stay far away.

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