Costa fully exploits digital video's ability to capture extremes of contrast, flattening exterior landscapes and the people within them into intersecting planes of light and shadow and discovering new inky variegations of black within the darkest of interiors. Some of the film's most stunning moments come when Costa lets more vivid hues intrude on the mostly washed-out palette of sickly greens and dirtied off-whites, as in a scene in which Ventura seeks a moment of respite amid the cloistered cool of a gallery hung with the paintings of Spanish old master Diego Velazquez.
Colossal Youth is at times as interminable (Vanda's extensive improvised monologue about giving birth) as it is bleak and oblique. Above all, though, it is brave. Although the word might seem odd, I put it out there not simply because Costa's film so flagrantly tests the patience of its audience (since its divisive premiere at Cannes last year, walkouts have become a routine part of its screenings) but because it never solicits our pity or invites our disapproval of the people whose lives it so doggedly follows.
For Costa, the aesthetic's promise of succor - whether found in the rough-hewn lines of a love poem that will never reach its intended addressee, the supposedly democratized space of a museum, or that other dimly lit image reservoir, the movie theater, in which we yearn to be relieved of ourselves - is an illusion, which, however sustaining, can never be made good on.
There is simply no rest for the weary or for the filmmaker who trails alongside them. On the razed grounds of a home that was never really one to begin with, Costa clears a place for the impoverished to testify about their lives. It is a space that, as Vollmann's problematic volume attests, can perhaps only be realized on film - an expanded freeze-frame on the pause between the two halves of Samuel Beckett's famous couplet: "I can't go on, I'll go on." *
COLOSSAL YOUTH (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland) Sat/28, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/1, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 8:15 p.m., PFA