A group of immigrants shuffle silently past a graveyard. In a shabby place, bloodstains are wiped up, photos burned and a wallet emptied. The night is pitch black during the opening minutes of Vitalina Varela, and it stays that way. In this quiet drama by Pedro Costa (Cavalo Dinheiro), it seems as if the darkness will swallow everything.
Cape Verdean Vitalina Varela, who more or less plays herself in the title role, won the Best Actress award at the festival in Locarno, where the film also won the Golden Leopard. In the film she sets out, following the death of her partner who suddenly moved to Portugal years ago, to see for herself the place where he last lived in Lisbon. She winds up in a surreal, isolated world, powerfully underlined by Costa’s chiaroscuro filmic style, which often illuminates only part of the 4:3 ratio image, fixing the characters in pitch-black emptiness. Everything and everyone is at a standstill; sunlight seems not to exist. Just a breathtaking vacuum.