Pedro Costa’s new film, Horse Money, represents a return to familiar ground for the portuguese filmmaker. Between arthouse and documentary filmmaking, Pedro Costa is celebrated everywhere around the world but in his own country . His peculiar and unconventional style of filmmaking is focused on phantasmagoric characters embedded in beautiful framed compositions of light, perspective and form. Each frame could easily be turned into a painting full of visual contrast, warmth and textures.
In our conversation with Costa he talked about the stagnation and cloistering Portugal as a society without any sense of sociological reality since the coming of the 20th century. That since the 1900s the country has closed itself off and isolated itself from foreign realities: the consequences have crippled the nation. Costa discusses the sad state of European cinema, defined by a few choice auteurs and ultimately threatened due to austerity measures and unfavorable political landscapes. He is referring, in part, to the slow dismantling of ICA (the government funding agency responsible for funding the majority of Portuguese cinema) that began in 2012. It is estimated that in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, ICA contributes over 80% of funding to Portuguese filmmaking since at least 1997. Since 2012 numerous efforts have been made to revive ICA with much difficulty and under scrutinous debate. Costa’s point of view runs deeper than that however, and he has not stood in solidarity with the Portuguese filmmakers who proposed a petition to the government in response to the cuts. His films do no better in Portugal than they do in any other country in the world.
Costa’s filmmaking techniques and style come from the exercise of working constantly with his small crew, small budget and with little equipment in order to create something aesthetically beautiful. Horse Money was shot for less than 100,000 dollars (less than 5% of budget of typical Portuguese production), a voluntary limitation that Costa imposes to himself stating that if he had more money to make a movie and was forced to step outside his comfort zone, he’s sure he wouldn’t be able to make a movie anymore.
Pedro Costa’s filmmaking technique is intimate, personal and expressive. His use of an old low end documentary digital camera, pushed to the most of it’s technical abilities, elaborates on the dark atmospheric light composed naturalistically by cinematographer Leonardo Simoes, in order to craft complex frames and images. Pedro Costa’s is directly inspired by the pioneer films from the Classic American Cinema era, and with Horse Money he explores the Portuguese version of the Pioneer story as a metaphor for the failure of the Portuguese society. The eternal story of the immigrant is an adventure into the unknown, it is a story of sacrifice and identity. In many ways, the story of the pioneer is a story of the individual who feels the need to exile himself from himself. This element of sacrifice inspires a subtle nobility that is felt strongly in Costa’s work. Ventura, as the protagonist of Horse Money, embodies the theme of failure and takes us through his many different declinations becoming simultaneously the grand hero and the most tragic example of country’s greatest failure, the revolution of April 25th, 1974. Having lived through it, Costa calls the revolution the failure of any spirit of human decency.
Horse Money is more about failure than about anything else, but when asked why the film is spoken in Cape Verdean instead of Portuguese Costa stated that Horse Money it’s not a Cape Verdean nor a Portuguese film. The reason why the film is spoken in Cape Verdean is practical, because that is the language of his characters and actors. This fascination with language is echoed in Costa’s message to future filmmakers as he urges those who are interested in film to pick up a new small cameras and become comfortable with it. He reminds future filmmakers that cinema isn’t only image but sound, and sound is voice and voice is language and language is how we relate with each other as human beings.