DVD of the week: Pedro Costa's 'Blood'

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This stunning debut film by Portuguese musician-turned-director Pedro Costa is well worth discovering

With the release of his stunning slum poem ‘Colossal Youth’ last year and a retrospective of his work just finished at Tate Modern, the question remains: who is Pedro Costa? In approaching this devious conundrum, you could do a lot worse than to pick up the Portuguese maverick’s 1989 debut, ‘Blood’, a timeless rites-of-passage drama chronicled in twilight monochrome and whose every frame throbs with passion, artistry and a profound understanding of both the charted and uncharted terrain of cinema.

We start off in noir country, where all we can hear is the slamming of a car door and the sound of a slap across the face. Lights stream in from unusual sources, faces are obscured, characters slink in and out of the frame; every composition feels like its been minutely orchestrated to elicit the optimal visual impact.

A domineering and disinterested patriarch and petty crook treats his two sons, one a young teenager, and the other much older, with something approaching scorn. He dies off camera, and the older brother has to pick up the slack of his nefarious dealings while trying to get his puckish Antoine Doinel-like sibling through school. Nothing is spoon-fed here, but if the narrative thread gets lost once in a while, Costa is sure to load each individual scene with its own uttlerly distinctive and mesmerising quality which keeps you happily submerged in the drama.

Wider reading on Costa does suggest that he’s been annexed as the cineaste’s darling, making the prospect of delving into his oeuvre not a particularly enticing one (indeed, Australian film academic Adrian Martin name-checks no less than 36 directors in his accompanying essay). Yet, you really don’t have to be up on your Straub-Huillet to appreciate this film. Certainly, it hints at the gentle lyricism of Erice, the reckless romanticism of Ray and the technical virtuosity of Welles (there’s much, much more for those ready to look for it), but this is a film that stands-up entirely of on its own merits.

Extras
Accompanying essays and interview.

Author: David Jenkins



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