Horse Money – Pedro Costa (2014)

It’s kind of sad that you have to wait almost two years for a brilliant film to cross your way. I missed Pedro Costa’s new film in Locarno, because I saw Lav Diaz’s From What Is Before (2014). That was my only chance somehow, because it has never popped up around me. I regret not having seen it there and then. Pedro Costa has convinced me with Horse Money, perhaps even made me a fan. When I saw Colossal Youth a while ago, I couldn’t really get into his work. Cinematographically it was beautiful, but I had issues to follow the narrative. Now, my having matured and having a more in-depth view on themes such as colonialism and the trauma that comes with it, I want to revisit not only Colossal Youth. I also want to see as much of his other films as I can. There is something very attractive about it, very engaging, very enveloping.

Horse Money is an exceptional piece and resonated with my experiences of Diaz’s films. Costa has created a haunting piece. His extraordinary play with light and shadow, the latter being most prominent, renders Horse Money as haunting as it could be. The frames are tight, adding to the haunting atmosphere a feeling of claustrophobia. What is it that holds us so tight, like prisoners? What is it that the characters are imprisoned in? What is it that the characters are looking to escape from, but who cannot flee?

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History. Memory. Trauma.

Three words which are embodied by characters and film style alike. Costa plays on temporal disorientation. Ventura, an elderly man and Costa’s muse, if you wish, speaks of the past as if it was present. He says he is 19 years and 3 months old. When asked whether he is married, he looks at his ring finger and hides it. He walks repeatedly through dark, endless corridors. Passages to the past, passages to memory.

Horse Money is situated on the threshold between life and death. We can never be sure whether the characters we see are alive, a result of a dream, a hallucination, or a simple memory. To me, even Ventura himself was a phantom, a man of ghostly presence who is removed from reality. And so was I. A curious effect I had never experienced with a film before – I felt removed from reality. I felt as though I saw the film from outside my body. The ghostly appearances of the few characters we meet, their almost constant whispering, their positions in dark, shadowy places – I wasn’t really where I thought I was. Where was I, then?

I’m not sure where Horse Money took me. I know that it hit certain spots. Trauma is one of them. I studied Diaz’s representation of post-trauma back and forth, and Costa’s is an entirely different, yet very effective approach. Ventura is paralysed. He’s living in a temporal loop. So are his friends. His shaking hands are indicative of shock, which, it often seems, he has lived through only a few minutes earlier. The date mentioned, however, is 11 March 1975, the day a coup attempt was beaten down by the Portuguese military government. It feels as if it was yesterday.

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Absence. Absent presence. Present absence.

Ventura enters his former work place, a building in ruins. Everything is shattered. He speaks to his boss who is no longer there. He dials numbers on broken telephones. It is an errie atmosphere. The past is well alive in Ventura’s mind, but not in Costa’s screen images. This discrepancy is startling throughout the film, and causes the temporal and spatial disorientation I was speaking of earlier. Above all, however, it is an image of people reeling from trauma. It is an image of paralysis, perhaps most obviously embodied in a single image: that of Ventura, naked apart from his red pants, standing in the streets at night, surrounded by soldiers and an armoured vehicle. He lifts his hands.

“You died a thousand deaths, Ventura,” a friend says. Horse Money feels like the end, but it isn’t. Ventura, struggling with what he calls a “nervous disease”, will die many more deaths before he can break out of the circle of history, memory, trauma.

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7 thoughts on “Horse Money – Pedro Costa (2014)

  1. If you’re going to re-visit Colossal Youth, I’d watch In Vanda’s Room, Colossal Youth, The Rabbit Hunters, and Horse Money…in that order.

    As they are fictions that follow real-life events, seeing them in order makes each proceeding film much more richly clear.

    The Criterion marketing folks called Ossos, In Vanda’s Room, & Colossal Youth “The Fontainhas Trilogy”, but that’s bogus. Pedro had his lightbulb moment for a new type of cinema as a result of making Ossos. In Vanda’s Room was the first film made in this new approach. That’s when Pedro Costa really became PEDRO COSTA.

  2. (random thoughts)
    actually he had “his lightbulb moment for a new type of cinema” WHILE making Ossos (as he stated last September in Arsenal —> http://www.arsenal-berlin.de/en/arsenal-cinema/past-programs/single/article/5603/2804//archive/2015/september.html).

    And he got to Fontainhas thanks to the letters which relatives of people immigrated to Fontainhas gave him while shooting Casa de Lava in CapoVerde and they please him to delivery them to their people immigrated in Portugal. (sorry for the complicated sentences construction. still have to drink my first coffe 😉

    And just do drop a couple of trivia / filmquiz stuff but I’m convinced that in certain cases you got there because you’ve to got there.
    Without Casa de Lava and living in CapoVerde (and learning Portuguese Creole – the language that he then used / is using to communicate with the immigrants of Fontainhas (that’s also one of the main reason because they “trusted” (I use quotations marks ’cause it sounds “komisch”) and welcome him.

    And without Ossos … no “lightbulb moment” 🙂
    He met the people (Ventura, Vanda, and many others) before and while shooting Ossos. I won’t “brutally” exclude the film from the Fontainhas Films (as they called them in Arsenal last September – nice retrospective – with Pedro Costa talking for HOURS after each film. (4 days in a row, intense). They are in a way linked to each other. and to be “pingelig”, only Ossos and Vanda’s room play in Fontainhas … that’s why Fontainhas Film and not Fontainhas trilogy.

    Cavalo Dinheiro was my first Costa’s film, watched in Locarno 😉 and it was a sunny day (that locarno film festival was pretty dark and with a lot of rain) and the film before (just checked the calender) was a really shitty indie movie (sorry!) and I was pissed, and tired and I didn’t quite enjoyed Cavalo Dinheiro. But it stayed there, in my “Hinterkopf” (that’s the power of films!). This September I (re)watched it (after the other three – and after hours of Pedro speaking) and it was really really “something else”.

    In a interview in the last “Revolver” (33):
    (in german, sorry)
    Interwiever (Matthew Porterfield): “es ist jedenfalls ein Film, der die Leute geradezu anfleht, ihn mehr als einmal zu sehen”.
    Pedro Costa: “es ist ein Film, den keiner versteht. Ich habe mich mit meinen Freunden darüber lustig gemacht, aber mir scheint, dass es vor einiger Zeit noch Filme und Filmemacher gab, die keiner verstand. So ungefähr: “Oh, ich hab den Film geliebt, puh, oh Mann, der ist schwer zu verstehen.” Und das war okay. Ich meine, es existierte. Straub hatte das oft, die ganze Zeit. Jetzt nicht mehr. Ich trete in diese Fußstapfen. Ich meine, Bela Tarr. Wow. Keiner hat da dieses, “ich hab’s nicht verstanden.” Oder ein Apichatpon-Film. Jeder versteht das. Aber bei Horse Money: “ja … nein, das ist schön, aber hm, schwierig, ich versteh’s nicht.”

    (and I guess there’s even a little bit of Costas humor in this quote (the whole interview is fantastic) but it’s kind of true. (speaking for me) I needed 14 months and the three other films to “got” Cavalo Dinheiro. Even if I’m the kind of guy that thinks that: “KINO IST EINE ERFAHRUNG – man muss nicht alles / immer verstehen! – KINO IS AN EXPERIENCE – there’s nothing to unterstand (in the German sense of UNTERSTANDING (that’s important! and difficult to explain, Nadin you probably know what I mean)).

    And now coffee!
    Davide

    • Wow, thanks for the interview extract! Very useful. Yes, experience should come first, way before understanding. This is specially true of slow films. I had this with Horse Money very extreme, though I do believe you can “understand” the film without his others. Then again, “understanding” is a very individual matter. What makes sense to me, makes perhaps no sense to other people. It’s what I like about those films. They’re open. They can grow with the audience, or in the audience.

      Anyway, your comment actually reads if if you had too much coffee haha

      Nadin

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