Voices in the darkness: Horse Money review

Pedro Costa’s Horse Money (Cavalo Dinheiro) is the first theatrical release from Second Run DVD, who this month celebrate ten years of releasing neglected masterpieces of world cinema. Second Run have long supported Costa, previously releasing Casa De Lava (1994) and O Sangue (1989), so their first foray into theatrical distribution is apt. Celebrated on the festival circuit – Horse Money won the Best Director prize at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival – this is Costa’s first narrative feature since Colossal Youth In 2006, having directed several shorts and one feature documentary, Change Nothing (2009) in the interim.

Vitalina Varela
Vitalina Varela

Again following the retired labourer Ventura, just as he was the focus of Colossal Youth, Costa casts a shaft of light on the largely uninhabited interior spaces within the hospital that his lead wanders through. Ventura, a man in his seventies, here appears making declarations of his youth, telling the doctor that he’s nineteen and was lost in Fontainhas, his past ever present and unresolved. He encounters Vitalina, she is waiting for her widow’s pension and tells the story, with whispered intensity, of how she struggled to obtain a visa to attend her husband’s funeral. Later Ventura comes upon Benvindo, waiting for his salary; ‘’How long have you been waiting?’’
‘’Over twenty years.’’

Such interactions might perhaps exist only in the mind of Ventura. He appears frail, trembling and confused. He’s vulnerable to the neglect of the state, determined – as are those he encounters – but from their perspective easy to ignore. Until that is, he’s apprehended attempting to leave and the sight of him surrounded by soldiers, cornered by a tank is an image that describes so much about the treatment of Portugal’s post-colonial forgotten peoples. It’s this subject that Costa has made his primary concern, documenting testimony from those whose voices would otherwise be unheard.

Costa and regular cinematographer Leonardo Simões use darkness to startling effect, as exterior light casts shadows on walls in otherwise opaque spaces, the shadow of a window frame creating a structural reference against which bodies are temporarily illuminated. Whenever a close-up occurs, its impact is magnified by the predominance of mid and wide compositions throughout, suddenly identifying the loss and desperation writ upon a lined face.

Horse Money can be thought of as a ghost story, where Ventura is at once haunting the establishment that failed him, and haunted by the voices of his community. Ventura is a figure carrying the weight of personal and collective experience with him, and here Costa has stretched his inhabiting of space and gathering of stories to its gloomy, mesmeric eventuality. An extraordinary and absorbing work of cinema.

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