The Criterion Collection presents Pedro Costa’s 1997 film Ossos (Bones) in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and it has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The DVD is currently available exclusively in their Letters From Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa box set and is the first dual-layer disc of the 4-disc set.
Ossos is the only film in the set to come from a film source whereas the other two films that come with the set (In Vanda’s Room and Colossal Youth) were shot in standard-def digital, so of the three Ossos ends up coming off looking the best by far. It presents a fairly sharp image and the intricate details in some of the shots in the corridors of the shanty town are quite impressive. The colour scheme to the film is incredibly dull but they still manage to come off look nicely saturated, and black levels are fairly deep and rich, though shadow delineation can leave a little to be desired. There are some minor compression artifacts noticeable on occasion but they’re not distracting.
I was especially impressed with the condition of the source materials. Considering this was an ultra low budget production I was sure it would probably come off looking a touch rough around the edges, but it’s considerably clean; other than a couple of minor scratches that I noticed it’s in pristine shape.
In all I was quite impressed with the image and it’s a shame that it’s not receiving a Blu-ray release. But considering how the other films were shot in standard-def I can understand why the set as whole is not being released in the format, but upconverted the image for Ossos still holds up quite well. 8/10
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.
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 is specific to the supplements found on the disc for Ossos and not to the supplements found on the other discs in the box set.
First up is an exclusive interview, in English, between Pedro Costa and Jean-Pierre Gorin, running 33-minutes. For whatever reason I actually wasn’t looking forward to this interview and I can’t say why that is but thankfully my initial reservations were unfounded. In it Gorin asks him about his films and his technique, with Ossos receiving the focus naturally. Costa talks about the documentary aspect of it (and I guess the trilogy as a whole) and also his reservations or possible guilt, about using bigger crews on films. He talks about the look of his film, mise-en-scène, and his style, along with what’s he’s striving for in his films. It’s a rather nice, informative interview with the director and certainly takes the place of a commentary.
The next interview features Costa’s friend João Bénard de Costa, former head of the Portuguese Cinematheque in Lisbon. In this 9-minute interview recorded in 2004 (da Costa passed away in 2009.) In his discussion of the film it’s very apparent he adores it, talking about the characters, their presentation, how they interact, their “toughness,” the framing, and even gives a wonderful explanation about the meaning of the film’s title, with references from another article on the film. It’s an intelligent, rather illuminating discussion, that in and of itself actually made me appreciate the film even more than I already had. I quite liked this short little piece.
The next interview, also filmed in 2004, is with cinematographer Emmanuel Machul, whose also worked with the likes of Robert Bresson and Maurice Pialat, and also worked on Costa’s film Casa de Lava. In the less than 8-minute interview he talks about the conditions of the shoot in Fontainhas, which were incredibly difficult because of the limited space and tight corridors of the neighbourhood, and also on how Costa works. In the last couple minutes of the interview he then talks about his favourite shots in the film and the sound in the film. It feels brief but expands on Costa’s previous interview in certain areas.
Jeff Wall Video Essay is a 13-minute video essay by artist Jeff Wall on the film. He recalls first seeing it (after reading a review about it) and then what struck him about it, specifically the slowness, the look, the narrative, and the characters that appear in the film yet don’t “do much.” From that last part he expands on Costa’s “development” of his characters, or more the lack thereof, where he keeps his characters mysterious and makes sure we never really get to know , keeping them at a distance, though notes one character, a nurse, is the exception to this. Bresson, who mentioned a bit in the supplements, is also brought up in comparison. It’s a fairly good analysis of the film and Costa’s style, well worth viewing.
The disc then closes with photographs by Marianna Viegas, a small collection of black and white photos taken during filming.
And that wraps up the supplements found for Ossos, in all strong on their own even when the rest of the set isn’t taken into consideration. I liked Ossos but what the supplements did was help me develop more of an appreciation for the film and Costa’s work overall (as the set does as a whole) and they stick to Criterion’s “film school in a box” style.
(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.) 8/10
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.
Ossos is certainly the most “audience-friendly” of the bunch, though that doesn’t make it in anyway an easy film, or any less frustrating on first viewing. This was my first time with a film by the director and it did take a bit to adjust to his style and narrative, and though I get the mentions and possible comparisons to Bresson found throughout the set, his style is certainly unique and something I haven’t quite seen before, for better or worse. Ossos does make for a fairly good introduction the director’s work, though, and if one can they should certainly start with it. As to Criterion’s presentation of the film it is quite solid, presenting sharp image and audio, and great scholarly supplements. The set is fantastic, but this disc all alone is quite strong.
View packaging for this DVD