(Nuno Crespo) What is this object?
(Pedro Costa) It’s the notebook that I took on my first research trip to Cape Verde. It was for jotting down the usual notes on locations, people, ideas for scenes... I don’t remember now where it started. I think it was halfway through: the first page was the one with the postcard with the Cape Verde stamp showing the back view of three nurses in front of the mountains of Santo Antão alongside a page from the Portuguese daily newspaper, PÚBLICO, with an article on dangerous vaccines that we were exporting to PALOPs (Portuguese speaking African countries)... All things I had to hand, a newspaper and a view of Cape Verde. I stuck the postcard in, the stamp, the vaccines, the nurses. And because I was reading a book by Robert Desnos, I signed his name on the back of the postcard and suddenly the whole story became clear and the film found a sender and a recipient. So, there would be a nurse who accompanied a comatose immigrant worker to Cape Verde, while also bringing death through these dangerous vaccines. I didn’t invent anything, it was in PÚBLICO... And so I carried on: things seen from the front stuck over things seen from the back, halves of things, fragmented things, hidden faces, turned upside down. It was a way of discovering the film that I was in the process of making...
(Nuno Crespo) Wasn’t the scrapbook made spontaneously for the film?
(Pedro Costa) Like every diligent director, I bought a squared notebook to record my production and location notes etc. A script had been written and my plan was to stick closely to it. Furthermore, the whole team had read it and believed in it. This scrapbook was just the first warning sign of what was to come: the erratic behavior, the beginning of my sabotage against the script, the actors, the producer, against myself. If I ever had the misfortune to end up on a film financing jury, I’d be very happy to be shown things like this. I’m not against conventionally written scripts but in a work like this you can see more and – bizarrely – you can even hear more... Obviously this way of ‘visualizing’ the project was really useful for the director of photography and some of the crew members and actors. It gave them an idea of the things that I liked. But the person who spent most time with the scrapbook in his hands was the sound designer. After filming a shot, he would whisper discreetly to me: ‘Well, it was in the book...’
(Nuno Crespo) But are you against traditional scripts?
(Pedro Costa) It must be funny to be a screenwriter for cinema these days: ‘Interior, night. The rain beats against the shutters. Joana can’t sleep. The camera moves in slowly.’ I’m more interested in having feelings and following them irrationally. In the same way, I’m more interested in some people than others, in interiors more than exteriors, walls more than landscapes. On this point, it’s worth remembering the time John Ford was asked whether he liked his epics and westerns. Ford answered: ‘I don’t want to make great sprawling pictures. I want to make films in a kitchen!’ And for me, ‘Casa de Lava’ was when I began to realize these things and make important choices. And a scrapbook like this allows you to do everything that institutions and television don’t. In a script it would always be pretentious, offensive even, to quote Aeschylus or to refer to a drawing by Paul Klee to describe a character. Here one could include the poet Desnos talking in Creole and this type of encounter can be set out and emphasized with complete freedom. This book, which ought to be very technical and authoritative, is the script of a film which fortunately didn’t turn out as it was meant to. The original was a kind of remake of an American film that I loved [‘I Walked with a Zombie’, by Jacques Tourneur] which, in turn, was a variation on ‘Jane Eyre’. Adventures in Cape Verde, volcanoes, zombies, crazy women. And I had the idea of taking the film in a direction that was less concrete, more political or documentary, if you will.