‘Vitalina Varela’ Film Review: Pedro Costa Summons a Dark Night of Grief

‘Vitalina Varela’ Film Review: Pedro Costa Summons a Dark Night of Grief
A funeral procession emerges from the pitch-black center of a walled cemetery outside of Lisbon. Mourners move past the camera, but no one speaks of the deceased or of anything else. For the first 10 minutes of Pedro Costa’s latest, “Vitalina Varela,” wordless sound design and an immersive darkness settle in, the storytelling restricted to the aftermath of sickness and an unknown man’s last days.

Costa’s films often star first-time or other nonprofessional actors playing versions of themselves, with storylines reflecting their real lives, elements of fiction and documentary forming a seamless whole; as such Vitalina Varela plays “herself.” And as the film opens, and Vitalina arrives, she’s three days too late. The funeral was for Joaquim, the husband who abandoned Vitalina years earlier, and this three-day passage amounts to an anti-resurrection. Here, the dead stay dead.

Vitalina positions herself in the shadowy, crumbling hovel where Joaquim lived and died,
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