Marianna (Ines de Medeiros) is a nurse who escorts a
comatose Leao (Isaach de Bankole) from Portugal to his
homeland of the Cape Verde Islands. When they
arrive, she is practically dumped by the helicopter
pilots who leave her to return to an undisclosed
war. They eventually get moved to a hospital,
but no-one will claim Leao stating that no-one knows
While Leao lays asleep Marianna wanders around the
volcanic island, slowly becoming mesmerised by the
people and the sights. Most notably she revels
at an all-night party, yet moments of fear remain from
the presence of rabid dogs.
This film is still expressive of a director finding
his feet and attempting to make his voice heard above
the crowd. Like most European auteurs, Costa has
an observant camera that allows action to take place
in the frame and not pursuing a reaction although his
films do sometimes harness documentary sensibilities
in their overall outcome.
Costa was abandoned himself as a child, so the
yearning for a nuclear family is apparent in the
traits of his characters, who he uses as versions of
himself - they are searching for a home or a settled
place. Marianna is a lost soul, lost in the
sense that she is far from home and in a strange land;
Leao is also lost in the sense that he has not been
found by anyone who can claim him, and so both are of
no fixed abode or location - Costa would return to
these traits of loneliness and alienation in his
masterpiece Colassal Youth (2006).
Marianna is another of the strong female characters
who are independent in spirit and conviction. As
a nurse, she knows nothing about the people she
treats, the week on the Casa de Lava allows her eyes
to be opened. Her independent spirit is helped
by having her wear this red vibrant dress signifying
both fire and warmth - these little touches by Costa
marks him out as a keen observer of people, much like
his fellow countryman Manuel de Oliveria.
There are moments of melodrama you would anticipate in
European auteur cinema, yet this is not over-reached
due to the placing of Marianna/Leao in a strange
land. By stumbling into a place of purgatory,
people are most scared of dying and the unknown hence
the tentative treatment towards strangers yet the
natives are seemingly accepting of their lot in life.
The use of landscape and environment is so richly
established it becomes a character in its own right as
well as a notable narrative device; the human
characters act like they do because of the location
and vice versa.
Casa de Lava (1994) is released on DVD by Second Run
Films today, Monday 24th September and on the disc
there are many features; a new HD master of the film
especially for this release; an interview with the
director discussing the film; an interview with
cinematographer Emmanuel Machuel and a new essay by
renowned film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.