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Pedro Costa

The Daughters of Fire” (As Filhas do fogo) is the Nervalian nickname Pedro Costa gave, back during Casa de Lava (1994), to the Cape Verdean women whose faces radiated from the opening of the film and whose encounters set his cinema on the path to its truth : to accompany the destiny of a people, to tell the truth about its misfortune and its greatness, about its betrayal by Portugal and its history.  The stations of this filmmaking, from In Vanda’s Room (2000) to Vitalina Varela (2019), have been of constant spiritual elevation, the implacable tale of suffering and the material and political reasons for it together with approaching and unveiling a mystery beyond history. This mystery is the subject of Daughters of Fire, set apart from history. The title itself suggests a return to the origin: girls from the Pico do Fogo volcano in Cape Verde, the images of its eruption preceding the girls’ faces at the beginning of Casa de Lava. Or rather a return from the origin, at the provisional end of the road, its final station: for the daughters of fire are also Vitalina Varela’s daughters, her spiritual daughters, who complete her journey back to the land of her birth and the mystery of suffering. There are three of them like the panels in a triptych that takes Pedro Costa’s filmmaking back to the very ancient art form of churches and altarpieces. Three panels: in the centre, a woman lying on the volcanic stone; on the left, a face moving past a wall of lava; and on the right, another, motionless against a post – two recurrent figures in Costa’s directing. The film lasts as long as Biagio Marini’s Passacaille (op. 22, 1655), a sublime score for two violins, cello and continuo. Based on this instrumental score, Costa and the early music ensemble Os Musicos do Tejo have created an oratorio for three voices by combining it with an equally sublime text, the quintessence of thirty years of cinema in a few phrases. Solitude, work, fatigue and suffering. But above all, “The time will come when we know why we suffer and the mystery will end.” Music, painting or film: the time of art is the time of this mystery, which is the time of life: why suffer? The purpose of art is to experience this mystery, to illuminate its very obscurity. The end of the mystery will be the end of this life of suffering. The end of the film, in a vertiginous contraction of the work, merges the beginning of Casa de Lava and the end of Vitalina Varela. Taken from a 1950s film documenting the eruption of Pico do Fogo, views of the volcano are followed by an astounding shot of men and women, some of them naked, coming out of a house of lava and moving towards the camera. An unprecedented vision of the encounter between a prelapsarian humanity and film, and it’s impossible to say whether film is the instrument of the fall, or redemption. A shocking revelation, in a flash – the image of innocence is also the image of its end. And the origin of song.

Cyril Neyrat

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Technical sheet

Portugal / 2023 / 8’