Casa de Lava by Pedro Costa

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Pedro Costa introduces Casa de Lava (1994) with the note that he discovered he doesn’t want to continue to film large-scale landscapes in nature, from making this production.  It’s true that he now favors illuminated faces framed by small dark spaces. In fact, the cinematography is breathtaking, volcanic rock everywhere underfoot (lead character Mariana exchanges her shoes for the right kind to tread on it). Casa de Lava astounds with its feet meandering along this volcanic ground, Cape Verde-where lively nurse Mariana (Inês de Medeiros), roams about, seeking the source benefactors of her comatose patient Leão (Isaac de Bankolé). This land becomes her land as she asserts her path between villagers, never losing her alertness, except for a bout of lovemaking with the son of the most alluring and mysterious villager, Edite, played without a mask(Edith Scob), and with such a wild face! Most of the time Mariana sleeps in a hammock and wakes to a bowl of mysteriously placed fruit. Leão is held captive by his comatose state, and because no one has come to claim him. Mariana has been left with him by soldiers, for a week, and then she doesn’t seem to want to pursue leaving the volcanic archipelago, though assaulted by a young boy on the first night she tries to sleep on the beach. Mariana becomes bound to Leão, and by turns is welcomed, assaulted, accepted, rejected, lusted after, respected, sought after, and scorned. Her courage and agility save her in most cases. She wants to do what is right, tending to babies, with the medicine she brought. What becomes almost understood, but impossible to comprehend at the same time, as in other Costa films, is the preposterousness of the Cape Verde culture, embedded as it is, with its own human nature. Perhaps that’s what Costa meant, that it was hard to film human nature, a whole village of characters.  Nothing seems to survive on Cape Verde but humans, singing, dancing, casting spells, drinking. The characters all have hewn faces which Costa mines, a severity and struggle in their serenity and spirit. Spontaneity, gaity, spunk, humor, sorrow, secrets, mystery all predominate and play out on this volcanic stage. Costa brings us close in, and leaves the mysteries intact. Our resident Mariana becomes outsider turned insider, but then is she? When Leão reaches for Mariana on the volcanic rock, it is like a scene in Vertigo, classic. The final scene brings to question which character is most at home. Casa de Lava is built for a character that we don’t meet fully until the very last scene.

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