Horse Money (12A)

Directed by Pedro Costa
Picturehouse, Liverpool
13th October 2015

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

I have seen some highly impressive films this year, running well into double figures, but this was the most peculiar of them all, and this is meant as a compliment.

Very dark, complex and very slow in its unveiling of scenes, it is an exploration of the 'real', dreamlike and ultra nightmarish recollections of a 60-year-old character called Ventura (played by Ventura!), an oppressed Cape Verdean immigrant living amid the Lisbon slums and netherworld.

You see him wandering through remembered spaces in the Portuguese city, mainly in an abandoned mental hospital, and always in virtual darkness, with only dim artificial lighting filtering through the almost impenetrable gloom, metaphorically and literally. This is captured in awesome style by cinematographer Leonardo Simoes.

Other inmates in there occasionally appear, notably by his bedside in the opening segment. They are the oppressed and disadvantaged of life.

The film appears to be set in an afterlife where the dead contemplate their lives and how much time they wasted on meaningless activities.

But there are other explanations about what the film is about. I think each individual viewer of Horse Money will have their own understanding of what director Pedro Costa - this being his first narrative film in nine years - is trying to convey.

In Ventura's memory he is visited by individuals from his past, including Vitalina (Vitalina Varela), who has returned to Lisbon from Cape Verde in order to bury her husband.

Ventrura tries to console her that he is "here with me", but it leaves one baffled as to what he means.

The most compelling part of the film is when Ventura is seemingly trapped in a lift with an almost motionless uniformed soldier, looking like he is covered from head to toe in black tar, who took part in the 'Carnation Revolution' in Portugal in 1974.

Various voices, young and old, emanate from both of them at different times.

This sequence perfectly illustrates the otherworldly and highly bizarre nature of the film.

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