Pedro Costa’s Horse Money screens tonight at tomorrow afternoon at the 52nd New York Film Festival. The film is currently without distribution.
After honing a transparent form of docufiction with his Fontainhas trilogy, Pedro Costa returns to feature-length filmmaking with his most abstract film. Horse Money seems to take place in the collapsing framework of Ventura’s (Colossal Youth) mind, with locations reduced to faint outlines of city streets and hospital halls. Gradually, the old man relives his time as a frightened immigrant during the Carnation Revolution, interacting with the ghosts of friends and tormentors alike.
Ostensibly a break from the social-realist overtones of Costa’s previous work, the film actually approaches the same subject matter, albeit obliquely. Ventura’s constant tremor, a slightly exaggerated display of the man’s real health issues, is a silent reminder of his lingering trauma and, when connected to a throwaway line about mold in the walls, an indication of his ongoing economic woes. An immigrant woman, Vitalina, reads from her identifying documents as if reciting mystical texts, reverential of the power they hold over her and her ever-precarious legal standing in Portugal. This mixture of the intangible and concrete peaks in an extended sequence where Ventura must debate his taunting memories as he rides an elevator down to hell or the center of his mind, if the two can even be separated.
As so many filmmakers try to make digital simply look like film, Costa continues to explore the format’s unique properties. The film’s blacked-out frames are one way of tackling digital’s indiscriminate deep focus, but the director often makes use of digital’s excessive clarity, not just aesthetically but conceptually. No other auteur with such a distinctive, carefully honed visual stamp is so generous with his performers, and Horse Money, like its predecessors, uses its camera to help the actors tell their stories, not to do the job for them.