Review: ‘In Vanda’s Room’

Portuguese director Pedro Costa's small band of admirers will get a charge from "In Vanda's Room," a three-hour docudrama-like study of a drug addict and her family and friends set in a Lisbon slum. Rest of the audience will quickly head for the exit as this painfully repetitive picture, shot with a small digital camera, appears headed nowhere. With no structure or internal rhythm, even the running time seems arbitrary: Two hours less or two hours more in Vanda's room would have left the viewer none the wiser.

Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s small band of admirers will get a charge from “In Vanda’s Room,” a three-hour docudrama-like study of a drug addict and her family and friends set in a Lisbon slum. Rest of the audience will quickly head for the exit as this painfully repetitive picture, shot with a small digital camera, appears headed nowhere. With no structure or internal rhythm, even the running time seems arbitrary: Two hours less or two hours more in Vanda’s room would have left the viewer none the wiser.

Pic has a connection with Costa’s previous “Bones,” also set in the Fountainhas district (populated by Cape Verde immigrants) and featuring Vanda Duarte, a thirtysomething woman who, apart from hawking vegetables in the area, seems to spend her whole life in her bedroom inhaling drugs and indulging in bleary conversations with her sister Zita. Other denizens pop in or are shown shooting up elsewhere (any sense of geography is denied the viewer), while offscreen noise charts the gradual demolition of Fountainhas, since achieved. Shooting style is largely long, fixed setups; blowup to 35mm is sharpish, though colors are cold and green-tinged.

In Vanda's Room

Portugal-Germany-Switzerland

Production

A Contracosta Producoes (Portugal)/Pandora Film (Germany)/Ventura Film (Switzerland) production, in association with ZDF and RTSI. (International sales: Pandora, Frankfurt.) Produced by Francisco Villa-Lobos, Karl Baumgartner, Andres Pfaeffli. Directed by Pedro Costa.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Costa; editor, Dominique Auvray, Patricia Saramago. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 8, 2000. Original title: No quarto da Vanda. (Portuguese dialogue.) Running time: 179 MIN.

With

Vanda Duarte, Zita Duarte, Lena Duarte, Manuel Gomes Miranda, Diogo Pires Miranda, Evangelina Nelas, Miquelina Barros, Antonio Semedo Moreno, Paulo Nunes, Paulo Jorge Goncalves, Pedro Lanban, Fernando Jose Paixao.
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