There are tiers of visibility in the movie industry. The first is the studio blockbuster tier, featuring movies with marketing campaigns executed with such thorough saturation that they’re guaranteed to seep into pop culture consciousness and public awareness even if only by osmosis. The second is the “indie” tier, which features anything from Searchlight films to A24 films, and which contains enough movies riding festival hype trains that anything else in the tier lacking either that or marketing gets drowned out. Then there’s the third tier, which is where movies like Vitalina Varela exist*.
This is the first time in my professional career that I’ve had the pleasure of formally reviewing a Pedro Costa movie, and I’m absolutely delighted that that movie is Vitalina Varela. It’s March, and I normally don’t do the whole “one of the year’s best movies” thing this early into a release calendar. Given that the calendar has been thrown way off course and may not get back on track until 2021, and given that Vitalina Varela has “future masterpiece**” written all over it, I don’t mind saying that Vitalina Varela is likely to be a top ten entry for me come December. It’s spectacular. Like most Costa movies, it takes devotion to get through. His work moves slowly, deliberately, and tends toward reticence. But if you can hang with it, you’ll be rewarded by superb film art.
*I might be wrong. There might be a fourth tier where Vitalina Varela exists, and the third tier might be where films like First Cow, an A24 release with less marketing driving it than, say, a Moonlight or a studio-typical elevated horror movie like Hereditary, exist. Regardless, even critics tend to ignore movies like Vitalina Varela, and I implore you all not to make their mistake.
**Because my refusal to call movies that have just gotten a release “masterpieces” has not gone away yet.