Colossal Youth (2006)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Slice of Life  |   Run Time - 155 min.  |   Countries - Switzerland, France, Portugal  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Buening

In Colossal Youth (Juventude em Marcha), Portuguese director Pedro Costa employs a mixture of documentary-style improvisatory scenes, scripted scenes with professional and non-actors, and a gritty visual style that references mid-century Hollywood and Western European art to create a daunting and difficult film about slum life in Lisbon. It is a sequel of sorts to In Vanda's Room, a documentary about a group of junkies in the same ghetto. Vanda appears again in this film as one of Cape Verdean immigrant Ventura's poverty stricken "children." The film is largely composed of vignettes as he visits them in the crumbling old buildings that are falling apart and being torn down to make way for new housing projects. In single-shot scenes, the interiors are variously depicted with hallucinatory perspectives reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari sets, the smudged black edges of a Goya painting, and the studied stillness, gray light, and everyday iconography of Vermeer. At times the effect is to inject the actors with a timeless artistic heroism. However when a brief respite to nature is framed like an impressionistic pastoral, Costa seems to be mocking Western European ideals of beauty. Ventura is given a room in one of the new buildings and insists on getting one large enough for his family. His "children" are either hallucinations or a euphemism for the lost and confused souls he wants to bring together. The housing agent asks, "How many children do you have?" He responds, "I don't know yet." This movie can be a difficult film to watch. Almost everyone speaks in long monologues, talking to but not with one another. The action is nonchronological, with little explanation to help the viewer sort out the time frame. It's completely depressing, bordering on nihilistic. But Costa employs a complex combination of sophisticated cinematic and theatrical techniques to create a pungent portrait of psychological devastation.