Pedro Costa delivers another challenging immersion in Lisbon slum life in "Colossal Youth," a numbing, nearly three-hour fusion of documentary and dramatic essay that will hold the Portuguese director's coterie of fans in rapt attention while proving a colossal bore to everyone else. Far-reaching study of poverty, loneliness and hope amid suffering is weighed down by its soporific structure, deliberately indolent pacing and endlessly attenuated conversations among a clutch of ill-defined personalities, limiting the film's accessibility strictly to festivals and select Euro arthouses.
Per the press materials, Fontainhas, the Cape Verdean-populated Lisbon district previously explored in Costa's "Bones" (1997) and "In Vanda's Room" (2000), has since been leveled, forcing some 9,000 inhabitants to relocate to the northern neighborhood of Casal Boba. One of the transplants is a 75-year-old man named Ventura, whom Costa first met during the filming of "Bones," and who is the closest thing "Colossal Youth" has to a point of entry.
The 15-month shoot and 320 hours of amassed footage resulted in a lightly fictionalized treatment of Ventura's life, drawing upon real-life details (such as an accident he suffered while working in Lisbon) to create what could generously be referred to as a story of sorts.
Pic kicks off with Ventura's wife, Clotilde, chucking random household objects out their window before declaring she wants to return to Cape Verde and abruptly leaving her husband.
The rest of the picture is given over to Ventura's peregrinations about the rundown neighborhood (though the uniformly grimy, underlit interiors and lack of establishing shots keep us from getting our bearings) and his vain attempts to establish a unit in a low-cost housing complex for himself and the people he affectionately calls his "children."
Most prominent of these is Vanda Duarte, the recovering drug addict who was the subject of "In Vanda's Room," and whose impenetrably long-winded monologues at least provide a (relatively) lively antidote to all the pregnant pauses and hazy repetitions that characterize Ventura's other relational exchanges.
For the most part, this genial if vacant guide is content to merely share the company of others, neither feeling nor applying pressure to take the conversation in any direction that an outsider might find interesting.
Costa's ascetic shooting style steers clear of unnatural lighting and extraneous camera movement, favoring extremely long takes that will prove a real chore for extremely short attention spans. Digital-video lensing by Costa and Leonardo Simoes looks decently sharp in 35mm transfer.
Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Costa, Leonardo Simoes; editor, Pedro Marques; sound (Dolby Digital), Olivier Blanc; sound editor, Nuno Carvalho. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 25, 2006. Running time: 155 MIN.