Casa de Lava

Running Time: 105 minutes

Region Code: B

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1/16.9 anamorphic

Audio: Original Stereo (Restored)

Language: Portuguese and Kabuverdianu

Subtitles: Optional English

The brilliant UK based Second Run follow their release of Portugese director, Pedro Costa’s debut feature, ‘O Sangue’ (‘Blood’) (1989), with a new high definition restoration of his second feature film, the 1994 drama, ‘Casa de Lava’ (‘House of Lava’). Released in the US in 1995 under the title ‘Down to Earth’ (another film title puzzlingly lost in translation), Costa’s intriguing and thought-provoking mystery-drama is a visually stimulating rethink of Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 horror classic, ‘I Walked with a Zombie’.

Filmed in the former Portuguese colony, the Cape Verde Islands, the film makes stunning use of the breathtaking scenery, incorporating snapshots of the islands’ bleak and barren landscape with silent footage of the eruption of  Mount Fogo, the highest active volcano of Cape Verde. The shots are all cleverly constructed metaphors to help establish and emphasise the central themes of loneliness and isolation.

The film opens in Lisbon, with immigrant construction worker Leão (Isaach De Bankolé) falling into a coma after an accident at a building site (the metaphorical ‘Zombie’ from Tourneur’s film), and tells the story of desolate young nurse, Mariana (Inês de Medeiros), who is assigned to travel with Leão as he is escorted to his home on the Cape Verde islands. As we continue to follow Mariana on her journey into this unusual land, the various cryptic strands of Costa’s esoteric plot begin to unfold, when none of the island’s native’s admit to recognising her assigned patient. As she weaves her way through the continual web of denial that is presented to her (by a rather ‘unique’ cast of characters), she continually calls into question both her conscience and her character, as she finds herself unable to escape her beguiling surroundings.

Casa de Lava was only Costa’s second feature film and is an ultimately, highly-rewarding cinematic experience; he makes fantastic use of the landscape and brings to life an intriguing set of enduring characters. Where I feel his great skill lies, is in his ability to incorporate and blend his characters into the landscape, without it ever feeling like one is over-shadowing the other; the film perfectly highlights the theme that both the people and the landscape are as lonely and isolated as each other. Costa also demonstrates his skill in drawing out strong and perfectly nuanced performances across the board, all coming across as very natural. Inês de Medeiros is particularly strong in the central role of Mariana. I must point out that the sound team have done a very impressive job here  as every individual sound effect is given a lot of attention and care, most notable in the scenes on the mountain itself, with the crunching and crackling underfoot resounding clearly and crisply.

If I had to pick out a negative, I would say that there are some weaknesses which lie within the screenplay. I just found that, at times, Costa tries to cram too much information into the dialogue when less would have been more effective. He tends to lean against the old adage of ‘show don’t tell’ and at times rushes through a lot of information all at once, which suddenly becomes confusing to the audience, and ultimately diminishes the mystical, slow burning effect of the piece.

This is a really impressive looking release from Second Run, and the new HD restoration, supervised by Costa himself especially for this edition, provides a memorable visual experience, and really brings to life the stunning location in which the film was set. The image looks bright and clear, with colours looking vivid and details and textures looking sharp; thankfully there does not appear to be any dirt or damage to the print. In terms of audio quality, the dialogue sounds crisp and clean with no hiss, and Raul Andrade and Paul Hindemit’s haunting score again accentuate the themes of isolation and mystery.

Special Features include:

Pedro Costa on Casa de Lava – a new and exclusive video piece filmed for Masters of Cinema at the Tate Modern, London.

The other Casa de Lava – pages from Pedro Costa’s fascinating scrapbook of texts and images gathered whilst working on the film, set to original music.

Interview with cinematographer Emmanuel Machuel

The interview with Costa is fascinating and it is great to hear him discuss, at length, his various ideas and decisions made for the film. The 11-page booklet features a very interesting essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum.


Second Run keep up their impressive work with this fantastic and essential new release, and it is well worth keeping an eye out for their previous Costa release, ‘O Sangue’.

Release date: 24th September 2012

Pre-order Now (click to buy):