By Mark Peranson
On a certain fine day in August, the unthinkable happened — actually, two unthinkables: 1) a jury awarded Pedro Costa the main prize at a major festival, and 2) all the reviews of a Pedro Costa film were raves. This utopian state lasted until around the same time that award was announced to the press—which I am sure was no coincidence—and, yes, it was good old Variety, still toiling mightily under the institutional memory of Todd McCarthy (Locarno jury, 2000), that did not let me down, launching their review of Vitalina Varela with this critical equivalent of a velvet-gloved slap to the face: “Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era.” As I have an inkling that, in this context, I’m one of the small (I’m over six feet tall) and influential (I can’t even find an apartment in Berlin, if anyone has any leads let me know) aesthetes (such an insult!), I can correct this misinterpretation: having now become the first filmmaker to win all three of Locarno’s major prizes (Golden Leopard, Special Jury Prize, Best Director), Pedro Costa is one of the great filmmakers of all time, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Having been in Locarno at the premiere of Vitalina Varela, I can testify that every single one of the 3,000 people who remained in the Fevi for the duration of the film were overwhelmed by the power Costa’s vision, and leapt to their collective feet in standing ovation as the credits rolled. That’s just as believable a scenario as, say, a cadre of radical critics and programmers imposing their beliefs on a bunch of uneducated suckers by sheer will, which is essentially what the Variety argument implies—a bunch of suckers, mind you, that includes a jury of rather experienced filmmakers, watchers, and actors, all of whom as far as I can tell are sentient beings with brain stems unconnected to the cinephile Matrix. (I haven’t even gotten into the meat of the Variety review because I stopped really paying attention after that first sentence, but trust me, it gets worse.) But anyway, I’m wasting my words—you can read 8,000 of them on the film in the pages that follow, many of which are spoken by the director in our de rigueur interview because, as usual, he has a lot to say that future film historians will be able to benefit from, and as long as he keeps making films, I’ll keep interviewing him. However, this time I’ve relinquished the introductory essay to a very special guest, who I think we can all agree is the crown prince of the influential aesthetes.
Now for the even better news: the members of the international cabal of cinephiles, after a secret meeting on the Greek island of Syros, have decided that the next filmmaker to be promoted to undeserving upper-echelon status is…Pietro Marcello! Congratulations, Pietro, your 15 years of toiling away in the filmmaking darkness as a nobody obsessing over Artavazd Peleshian has finally been rewarded, no thanks to your own talent! With this honour you are guaranteed a lifetime of producing art that will be hailed by aesthetes, will hardly be seen by anybody, and for which you shall barely reap any financial reward, unless you go to back Locarno one day and win the Golden Leopard and all those Swiss francs. But even that bounty will probably go to pay off your debts, and you will die penniless in a pauper’s grave.