No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room) by Portuguese director Pedro Costa was shown in Paris and Deca-Fëmijët, Kosovo 2000 (Children – Kosovo 2000) by Ferenc Moldovànyi in Nyon. Both films touched a nerve in their depictions of brutal, naked reality and gave rise to discussions on ethics in documentary filmmaking.

No Quarto da Vanda centres on Vanda Duarte, a young woman living in the slums of Lisbon. When Vanda is not out selling vegetables, she spends most of her time smoking and sniffing drugs in her room, alone or together with her sister Zita. During the three-hour-long film, we witness human destruction at close range, metaphorically sustained by the gradual destruction of the surrounding buildings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp4QXi1a-yQ

ANETTE OLSEN asked Suzette Glenadel, Director of Cinema du Réel, about her motives for selecting the film for the festival.

AO: Why did you select “In Vanda’s Room” for Cinéma du Réel?

SG: How could such a film not have been selected for a film festival entitled ‘Cinéma du Réel’ (Real Cinema), which is dedicated to social documentaries?

Was it right to enter the film in the competition? The question is legitimate since the film stands out against the ordinary. In fact it bears a closer resemblance to fiction than documentary and bears no likeness to any of the films usually entered in the competition at the festival. Moreover this was the only question I asked myself since I was totally enthralled by its subject and form.

I watched the film late at night and was entranced by it till early morning. And I felt like showing this film to as many people as possible. This truly is art and a type of film that should be seen more often.

No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room) by Portuguese director Pedro Costa

AO: The film seems to have hit a nerve by sparking discussions on ethical questions on what is morally acceptable to film and what is not. What are your feelings about that?

SG: In order to answer your second question regarding the debates and ethical questions arising, or which have arisen, from this film, I would firstly like to say that on a personal level this film posed no ethical problem. I find Pedro Costa incredibly respectful of Vanda’s image; some scenes may come close, but he never oversteps the mark. He does not expose Vanda, and the coughing scene, which for some is unbearable, is somehow admissible thanks to the intense familiarity that develops between Vanda and myself the viewer.

If this shot, as all the shots in the film (I will discuss this later), were not as long then nobody would be able to find fault. The aspects of the film that might meet with disapproval are the form, aesthetic quality and slow rhythm, aspects that are reminiscent of the religious or sacred sphere.

We hear endless complaints about the formats imposed by television, the standardization of dealing with subjects and the absence of creativity. Yet we would do away with a strong and original work that deservingly breaks free of these very faults!

I am even more surprised when I realize most documentary professionals praise the short films shown in the Strip Tease 1)Strip Tease is a magazine program made up of small documentary fifteen-minute segments. It is produced in Belgium (originated by Marco Lamench and Jean Libon for RTBF) and has been broadcast on FR3 for several years. slot that in my opinion usually pose serious ethical problems.

AO: Did the scenes of shooting and sniffing drugs affect you?

There are actually very few scenes showing someone shooting up drugs: one with Vanda or her sister, and even then it is very discreet, and another time with one of her friends. However not to see Vanda while she is taking drugs would have been strange since she spends most of her time smoking or sniffing, which is to a certain degree the subject of the film. (There have already been films with addicts injecting drugs into their arms as the only subject, something that is far more sensational.)

No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room) by Portuguese director Pedro Costa

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References   [ + ]

1. Strip Tease is a magazine program made up of small documentary fifteen-minute segments. It is produced in Belgium (originated by Marco Lamench and Jean Libon for RTBF) and has been broadcast on FR3 for several years.

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