Bacurau (Brazil-France, 2019) – GFF5

The people united…

This blazing contemporary take on the mess Brazil has gotten itself into by electing an extreme right-wing President is an eye-peeling throwback to the hallucinogenic ’60s films of Cinema Novo great Glauber Rocha. It’s just been released in the UK and is must-see for cinephiles (well, probably now a ‘can’t see’) as Juliano Dornelles’ and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s (they wrote and directed) film is a post-genre mash-up of the Western channelled through the sensibility of John Carpenter. That’s to say it takes generic influences, the beseiged town in the middle of (literally) nowhere, threatened by establishment killers and transforms them with unexpected inflexions. The production of the film started before Bolsonaro’s ascent to power so while it’s not specifically about his brand of lunacy its release is timed well to comment upon it; Brazilian politics, in common with many country’s, has been in a mess for the last few years.

Filho’s last film was the superb Aquarius and both are graced by Brazilian star Sonia Braga (in the blood spattered coat above), though she isn’t the lead character here; in fact there are no clear protagonists as the film emphasises the collectivism of village, Bacurau. A character tells us the name refers to a nocturnal bird that hunts at night hence, although the village seems vulnerable to heavily armed vigilantes, its power is unseen.

We are led into the village with Teresa (Bárbara Colen – also in Aquarius) who travels in with a water tanker, needed because the water supply has been cut off. The driver has to swerve around empty coffins that have fallen off a truck and suggest the hallucinogenic atmosphere of some of what follows. The coffins remind us of ‘spaghetti westerns’, the undertaker enthusiastically making them as Clint Eastwood prepares carnage, and Teresa is given a psychotropic drug as she arrives in the village for the funeral of her grandmother. We meet Domingas (Braga) who drunkenly excoriates the dead woman; we never learn why and it is part of the strength of the film that there’s no need to explain everything. We don’t know why the water supply has been stopped, why the local mayor is derided and, most importantly, the motivation of the vigilantes; or even if they are vigilantes. The lack of clarity emphasises the ridiculousness of the circumstances ordinary people find themselves in.

The ‘vigilantes’ are headed up by the ‘wonderfully’ deranged Udo Kier. They’re a mishmash of characters who seem united in their love of guns and killing. They also receive their orders from elsewhere and the use of a drone, fantastically ‘done up’ as if it was a UFO out of an Ed Wood movie, suggests the CIA might be involved. But the lack of specificity matters not at all, we get the idea of ordinary folk being tyrannised by those in power.

It’s set in the the impoverished land the sertão, the ‘backlands’ of north eastern Brazil. The location is shown via shot at the very beginning that starts with a satellite and we ‘zoom’ down as if observing via Google Earth. However, unlike the sertão of Rocha’s Black God, White Devil and Antonio das Mortes, the landscape is green (maybe Rocha and Dornelles/Filho have filmed in different seasons). Like Rocha’s films, however, as was Aquarius, this is a cry for justice against oppressors.

The John Carpenter reference above, by the way, comes from the use of music from his Assault on Precinct 13 (US, 1976) which reloaded the Western genre in a modern setting. The pounding score is both apposite to the rest of the music, which has a local flavour, and vital in suggesting alien intrusion on the land. In one scene I thought, ‘he’s going to get is head blown off’, metaphorically that is, until that was exactly what happened. Likely to be in my ‘top ten’ for the year.

5 Responses

  1. […] that may be the end of it) with Little Women, Weathering With You, So Long, My Son, Parasite, Bacurau and Lillian all fabulous cinematic experiences; Portrait of a Lady on Fire tops them […]

  2. […] good to catch up with Kleber Mendonça Filho’s debut film after being wowed by Aquarius and Bacurau. Its narrative is like the latter’s in terms of lacking a clear protagonist and both share a […]

  3. […] good to catch up with Kleber Mendonça Filho’s debut film after being wowed by Aquarius and Bacurau. Its narrative is like the latter’s in terms of lacking a clear protagonist and both share a […]

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