When Tate Modern in London had its 2009 retrospective for the Portuguese film-maker Pedro Costa, I wrote that he was the Samuel Beckett of world cinema. And like Beckett, his later work only gets more difficult, more stark, more austere. Another comparison now comes to mind. Polish stage director Jerzy Grotowski wrote about a “poor theatre”, theatre stripped down to physical essentials. Maybe Costa is creating a “poor cinema”. Horse Money is an extension, of sorts, to his film Colossal Youth (2006). Again, it is an opaque and challenging work, an elusive still-life evocation of Lisbon’s now vanished ghetto-district Fontainhas. Again it features a real-life resident: Ventura, a grizzled old man with calm and impassive divinity.
In a kind of vision or dream, he is shown being admitted to hospital believing it is still 1975, and that he is a teenager in the turbulent era of Portugal’s revolution. He meets with doctors, his cousin, the widow of a friend. It is all taken from life, but all transmuted into Costa’s idiom: difficult, slow cinema, speeches and monologues delivered in a murmur or whisper. Figures are frequently shot in semi-darkness, as if in a prison cell or the bottom of a well, their faces upturned, lit by a single shaft of daylight. Often, there is a compressed intensity to Costa’s poetry and sometimes just silence and inertia. I confess I prefer Costa’s earlier movies like Blood (1989) or Bones (1997). His uncompromising artistry always commands attention.