Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s star has been on the ascent for some time now, generally kept as a secret until 2006’s Colossal Youth’s screening at Cannes aggravated a certain kind of audience enough for us to know a new master had suddenly jumped into the limelight.
Now, I confess that I am not at this point a big fan of Costa's work, having so disliked Colossal Youth that I've yet to work up the stomach to tackle anything else. But that's not the point. What rankles—apart from the misuse of "aggravate," an error so commonplace that I should probably just learn to accept it—is the passage's ugly separatist vibe, one that I've frequently encountered elsewhere and that has long prevented me from getting fully behind a number of otherwise smart and perceptive critics. I have no doubt whatsoever that Kasman, whose taste is largely impeccable, could make a strong case for Costa on the basis of the films themselves, but here we learn that the world (= the few with a clue) recognized Costa's genius when he made a movie that succeeded in pissing a bunch of people off. And not just any bunch of people, but "a certain kind of audience." Oh, how the Philistines gnashed their (our) teeth that fateful May evening!
I'm sorry, but this is cinephilia as machismo, and hugely unproductive. It's one thing to recognize that certain "difficult" filmmakers are working in a mode that's going to appeal only to a small, select audience; it's another thing to implicitly celebrate that alienation, as if it were itself a laudable goal. Jonathan Rosenbaum used to pull this kind of thing, too—my copy of Movies as Politics is in a box right now, but I recall him looking back with at least some regret at a snotty remark along the lines of "my first clue that Alain Resnais' Providence might be something special was hearing that all the New York critics hated it." Surely there are better uses for cinema than as a self-congratulatory status symbol: "Yeah, I loved it, Rex Reed gnawed through six sets of legs to reach the aisle."