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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary featuring Jean-Pierre Gorin and Pedro Costa
  • Theatrical Trailer

In Vanda's Room


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Pedro Costa
2000 | 171 Minutes | Licensor: Bazar do Video

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $79.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #510
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: March 30, 2010
Review Date: March 20, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

For the extraordinarily beautiful second film in his Fontainhas trilogy, Pedro Costa jettisoned his earlier films' larger crews to burrow even deeper into the Lisbon ghetto and the lives of its desperate inhabitants. With the intimate feel of a documentary and the texture of a Vermeer painting, In Vanda's Room takes an unflinching, fragmentary look at a handful of self-destructive, marginalized people, but is centered around the heroin-addicted Vanda Duarte. Costa presents the daily routines of Vanda and her neighbors with disarming matter-of-factness, and through his camera, individuals whom many would deem disposable become vivid and vital. This was Costa's first use of digital video, and the evocative images he created remain some of the medium's most astonishing.

Forum members rate this film 8.1/10

 

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PICTURE

Currently only available in Criterion’s new box set, Letters From Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa, In Vanda’s Room is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has not been window boxed as is usually common lately with Criterion’s full screen DVD transfers.

In Vanda’s Room is Pedro Costa’s first film to be shot using a digital camera. The source is standard definition and is interlaced so that leaves little room for improvement, the booklet stating that colour correction, supervised by Costa, was the only correction applied to it.

While I was stunned by the imagery Costa was able to capture using a standard-def digital camera, especially in low lit sequences that make up a good chunk of the film, the picture is limited in many regards because of how it was filmed. Digital artifacts are a constant nuisance, dancing through the screen, and delineation is incredibly poor. The interlacing presents many issues include jaggies, shimmering, and trailing with quick movements creating quite a mess. On the other hand colours do look very good, even striking at times.

It doesn’t look too hot but I doubt much can be done to improve it, the only thing that might help, possibly, is more room on a disc, but in reality this is possibly as good as it gets.

6/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The disc presents a stereo Portuguese track.

According to Costa in the optional “commentary” that accommodates the film the sound was recorded using the microphone on the digital camera, which was incredibly mediocre. He did do some remixing, adding in sound effects to the backgrounds, and made an attempt as improving the spoken dialogue. While background effects sound fine, as does the music, dialogue sounds horrendous. It ends up coming off tinny and artificial, with a distinct echo through a lot of the film. Vanda’s coughing, which she does a lot throughout, is loud and distorted, just sounding awful.

Again, like with the image, this is about as good as it gets. Costa tried to mix it the best he could, and I assume the people who worked on this disc did their best, but the source, which in the end comes from a cheap camera microphone, doesn’t allow for much improvement.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion’s box set Letters From Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa includes a large wealth of supplements spread across its four discs, with one lone disc devoted completely to supplements. Other supplements have been spread across the other three discs, focusing specifically (for the most part) on their respective films. This supplement review refers specifically to the supplements found on the second disc featuring In Vanda’s Room and not to the supplements found on the other discs in the set.

This disc contains only one significant supplement, though it is a hefty one: an “audio commentary” featuring Costa and Jean-Pierre Gorin. It’s not a true commentary and is actually a conversation/interview between Gorin and Costa that’s been edited together to cover the length of the film from various conversations done in different locations. It’s not screen-specific but it has been edited together in such a way that what is being discussed can pertain to what is going on onscreen where appropriate.

I’m actually a little conflicted about this track to be honest. At just shy of three hours it can come off a little bloated, tiring, and it does get repetitive; there’s a few times where Costa talks about the lousy sound and how he had to edit in different background sound effects of the neighbourhood being torn down. But there’s a wealth of information in here about Costa’s style, why he moved to digital after Ossos, the technical aspects shooting that way, plenty of technical details, along with influences, and his thoughts and opinions on cinema and filmmaking. Costa also talks of his experience in the Fontainhas village/settlement and he talks fondly of the people there and the relationships he built up with them, though breaking them into the groups “the boys” and “the girls”, and he also talks about the conditions in which they live and poverty in general. While he covers a lot, Costa can ramble on, with Gorin interjecting with a comment or question here and there, and I did zone out a few times admittedly, but I have to say I like Costa, who is incredibly passionate, fairly humourous, and intelligent, making the track not as monotonous as it could have been. Still, most may want to sample it first through the commentary index.

The remaining supplements are a tiny photo gallery featuring a small number of black and white photos taken by Richard Dumas from the location of the shoot, with Costa in many of them. We then get a theatrical trailer for the film that I think comes from Japan, though I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.

The “commentary” is a decent addition to the rest of the supplements found on this set; though sort of rambling and probably too long, it offers a lot of information about Costa’s work and technique, as well as a lot of interesting technical details about this film.

(The grade below reflects the supplements found only on this disc and not the set as a whole. The set also comes with a 44-page booklet.)

6/10

CLOSING

The box set as a whole is a fantastic release and those familiar with Costa and fond of his work shouldn’t even think twice about picking this one up. Those unfamiliar with Costa’s work, though, will certainly want to give his films a rental first. Even those who appreciate slower films may find them maddening.

For myself, In Vanda’s Room is easily the most frustrating film in the set; it’s one that I find myself more admiring, one I was more captivated by in its making than the actual film. I like that it’s an attempt at a truly honest presentation of the people, that the characters don’t grow or change because that’s just how it is. It looks great, and Costa’s visuals are impressive and at times beautiful considering where the film was shot, but at 3-hours, with characters—played by actual people from the neighbourhood, more or less playing themselves—that are kept at more than an arm’s length with plenty of long static shots it can be at times extremely torturous. But then I suspect that that’s the point. It’s unpleasant, but then again, should it be anything else?

Criterion’s DVD is about as good as one can expect, its digital source presenting limitations in the video presentation. Though it’s the weakest disc in the set the transfer is still about as good as it’s going to get and the “commentary”, though long, is worth sampling through.


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