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New Release Review - HORSE MONEY

In Lisbon, an elderly Cape Verdean immigrant looks back on his life and the circumstances of his fellow migrants.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Pedro Costa

Starring: Tito Furtado, Antonio Santos, Vitalina Varela, Ventura




"With a use of shadow and chiaroscuro that invokes the atmospheric productions of Val Lewton, Kurosawa-esque diagonal lines of action, and a sense of depth to rival Kubrick, Horse Money is a masterclass in shot composition, the latest in a growing number of recent movies to revive the 4:3 Academy ratio. Sadly, that doesn't hide the fact that it's essentially a series of beautifully framed shots of its mumbling protagonist."





It's rare to see critics leave a press show halfway through the movie, but such was the case at the screening I attended of Horse Money, the latest installment in Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa's ongoing 'Fontainhas' cycle. Impenetrable to many, Horse Money is arthouse cinema with a capital A, for alienation.
Set for the most part in the spookiest medical institute since Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom, Horse Money follows Cape Verdean actor Ventura, once again playing himself, now seemingly succumbing to senility and claiming to be 19 years old. As he wanders the corridors of the Lisbon hospital and the ruins of the telephone factory he once laboured in, Ventura mumbles memories of his youth and encounters what we assume are the ghosts of fellow Cape Verdean migrant workers.
I have to confess complete ignorance when it comes to the recent implications of Portugal's colonial past, beyond assuming it's not the best place in Europe to be black (and I'm basing this solely on the casual and sometimes proud racism of the few white Portuguese people I've encountered). The ambiguous approach of Costa means anyone in a similar position will be left eually in the dark by the end of the film. It's interesting that the film opens in the same week as the Abkhazian set Tangerines, a movie similarly set in a time and place that will be alien to the vast majority of viewers. While Tangerines eases you in with a universal theme and teaches you a thing or two about its milieu along the way, Horse Money assumes you're already brushed up on late 20th century developments in the Iberian peninsula, which of course is its right.
For the most part, Horse Money is a one-man show, one which probably belongs on stage more so than film, but Costa and cinematographer Leonardo Simoes have created one of the year's most visually splendid movies. With a use of shadow and chiaroscuro that invokes the atmospheric productions of Val Lewton, Kurosawa-esque diagonal lines of action, and a sense of depth to rival Kubrick, Horse Money is a masterclass in shot composition, the latest in a growing number of recent movies to revive the 4:3 Academy ratio. Sadly, that doesn't hide the fact that it's essentially a series of beautifully framed shots of its mumbling protagonist. Portuguese citizens or students of that nation's history and social culture may get a lot from Horse Money, but for this reviewer it was alienating in a way I previously believed only Bollywood musicals could be.



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