Monday, December 19, 2022

2022 Blind Spot Series: Ossos


Written and directed by Pedro Costa, Ossos (Bones) is the story of a young teenage girl who gives birth to a baby as she entrusts its life in the hands of its deadbeat father who takes the child into a world of chaos including a crumbling shantytown they live in Lisbon. The first in a trilogy of films set in Fontainhas, the film is a mixture of fiction and documentary that explore a couple dealing with the look of a couple living in the most dire of circumstances. Starring Nuno Vaz, Vanda Duarte, Maria Lipkina, Isabel Ruth, Ines Medeiros, Miguel Sermao, Berta Susana Teixeira, Clotilde Montron, and Zita Duarte. Ossos is a mesmerizing yet stark film from Pedro Costa.

Set in the Fontainhas area of Lisbon, Portugal, the film revolves around a young girl who has given birth to a baby that she gives to his father who struggles to take care of the baby in the environment they live in as he turns to a nurse whom the young girl’s friend cleans for. It’s a film with a simple yet minimalist premise as Pedro Costa creates this story that play into two young people who are incapable of taking care of a baby as this young woman in Tina (Maria Lipkina) is a young woman with suicidal thoughts as she is watched by her older friend Clotilde (Vanda Duarte) as she tries to kill herself through carbon monoxide poisoning with her child until the baby’s father (Nuno Vaz) arrived to stop it from happening as he would take the baby but is unsure what to do. Yet, it would be a nurse in Eduarda (Isabel Ruth) who would take the father in as he would bump into Clotilde who cleans for Eduarda as she would also take Tina for jobs as a way to keep an eye on her. Still, Eduarda would watch from afar over the chaos that the father would endure as well as considering allowing a hooker (Ines Medeiros) to adopt the baby while there’s a subplot relating to Clotilde’s life and her attempts to help Tina.

Costa’s direction is entrancing for not just the sense of realism that he captures but also for the fact that the film is shot largely on location in the Fontainhas section of Lisbon as it is an area filled with African immigrants and the lower-class as a world that is removed from the vibrancy and richness of the metropolitan areas in Lisbon. While there are a few close-ups in the film, much of Costa’s direction emphasizes on medium and wide shots to not just play into this air of detachment with conventional society but also to play into this element of claustrophobia in the Fontainhas area. Notably as there’s a wide shot of the father with the baby begging for help and money in the middle of the city as it goes on for a few minutes while there are also some long tracking shots of the father walking on the streets as it goes on for a few minutes. It is among some of the stylistic moments in the film that Costa would create yet much of his direction has him aiming for a realistic style similar to cinema verite.

Costa’s approach to cinema verite by shooting in actual locations, with the exception of a few apartments outside of Fontainhas, has him capturing this air of reality that isn’t seen often in film. Even as there is this sense of uncertainty that these characters go through as well as the decisions they make with Eduarda being this outsider who barely has time to clean her apartment due to her work as a nurse. Yet, she is someone that is trying to help everyone but knows that giving them shelter or work isn’t enough as they could disappear the next day. Even as the film’s ending is an ambiguous one as it relates to the possible fate of a few characters but also this sense that life goes on in these slums. Overall, Costa crafts an evocative yet harrowing film about a young couple and others struggling with their lives in the Fontainhas slums of Lisbon.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Machuel does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key lighting for many of the nighttime exteriors as well as bits of vibrant lighting for the scenes inside Eduarda’s apartment as it has an air of realism in its photography. Editor Jackie Bastide does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some jump-cuts to play into some of the drama. Production designer Ze Branco does nice work with the look of Eduarda’s apartment in its interior along with the look of the hooker’s apartment. Costume designer Isabela Favila does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward in how many in the slums dress with the exception of Eduarda. The sound work of Henri Maikoff and Gerard Rousseau is fantastic for the way music sounds from afar as well as how sound is presented to maintain this air of realism.

The film’s superb ensemble cast largely feature non-actors that include Clotilde Montron and Zita Duarte as a couple of friends living in the slums Berta Susana Teixeira as a nurse who helps out the father and Clotilde, Miguel Sermao as Clotilde’s husband who is upset with her lack of time with their children, and Ines Medeiros as a hooker that the father goes to help take care of his baby. Isabel Ruth is brilliant as Eduarda as a nurse who tries to help Clotilde, Tina, and the father while lamenting over their situation as well as not being able to do more. Maria Lipkina is excellent as Tina as a teenage woman with suicidal thoughts as she laments over bringing a child to the world as well as being uncertain about what to do with her life. Vanda Duarte is amazing as Clotilde as a friend of Tina who also cleans Eduarda’s apartment as she copes with not just trying to help Tina but also deal with her own issues as she is also someone who dislikes the father of Tina’s baby. Finally, there’s Nuno Vaz in a marvelous performance as the unnamed father who is someone that is a bit selfish but does care about the baby while knowing he is incapable of raising a child due to his own destructive tendencies.

Ossos is an incredible film from Pedro Costa. Featuring a great cast, striking visuals, and its realistic depiction of people living in the slums of Fontainhas in Lisbon. It is a film that isn’t easy to watch yet it does play into this world that showcases people trying to live outside of the conventions of society. In the end, Ossos is a phenomenal film from Pedro Costa.

Pedro Costa Films: (O Sangue) – (Casa de lava) – No quarto de Vanda – (Ou git votre sourire enfoui?) – Juventude em marcha – (Ne change rien) – (Cavalo dinheiro) – Vitalina Varela

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