Image Credit: MUBI
It’s hard to pin down Bacurau. Is it a Western, Sci fi, comedy, horror, or something else entirely? Kleber Mendonça Fihlo and Juliano Dornelles’ genre-bending film is a rallying cry against the structural injustices of Brazil and neo-colonialism, and will take you on a joyous thrill-ride throughout.
The film opens up with an ominously silent soundtrack as a water truck riddled with bullet holes runs over empty coffins. Terese (Barbara Colen) is returning home to Bacurau, after hearing of the death of their matriarch. As the water leaks out of the truck so too does the hope for the town’s survival. Mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima) is hot on their trails. The village of Bacurau is impoverished thanks to the politician. He may deliver truckloads of books to the school and food to the villagers, but the food is expired, and the books are old and broken. The villagers need both but want neither. They want the water turned on, and Tony Jr. refuses. Soon after Terese’s arrival, strange happenings begin to occur such as UFO sightings, mysterious bikers, and the location of the town disappearing from GPS devices.
Bacurau lures you in with its lush hypnotic visuals. Beautiful and vibrant, with long sprawling landscape shots, they capture Brazil’s natural beauty which, in the film, seems to be under attack by corporations. Kleber proves to be incredibly competent behind the camera managing to showcase beautiful shots whilst maintaining a certain level of grindhouse B-movie grit to the production.
The film’s important message of modern day colonisation and the alienation of rural towns by the Brazilian government is decorated with a very similar Western package. Reminiscent of Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez, it tells the story in the most sensationally entertaining way possible. The film can be compared to Jorodowsky’s El Topo in terms of a surrealist Western, or The Magnificent Seven in terms of a small town defending itself from invaders, but even these two are not a fair comparison to the sheer originality of the film.
* Bacurau* juggles a large set of characters, and although some get enough screen time to be considered “leads”, such as the alcoholic Dr. Domingas played by Brazilian veteran Sonia Braga - her tough as nails approach and unweathering love for her village is admirable. The themes of the film are captured delightfully in Udo Kier’s fantastic performance as an uncaring psychotic mercenary taking part in a bloodsport where the villagers are the prey. His complete apathy for the people of Bacurau is chilling but brings up an important issue of the perception of Brazil’s native poor. His appearance is very similar to Crocodile Dundee (whether intentional or not) further adding to the idea that outsiders perceive the residents as less than human. However, there isn’t enough character development to really be emotionally invested in anybody in the film. This makes the first half a particularly slow burner, but I wouldn’t say the lack of emotional investment doesn’t raise any stakes.
As I continued watching, it became clear that the true star of Bacurau, is the village itself. Bacurau and its inhabitants are compactly filled with charm and eccentric quirks. There’s a sense of undying community, where even the common sex worker is heralded and respected. As the good doctor says to Tony Jr. “Even whores vote.” The film uses black comedy to endear and warm us to the villagers; Kleber makes us care about them even at their most mundane. In doing so, I became invested in the town’s survival. By taking its time to explore the colourful and dynamic Bacurau, it lets you know exactly why this village is special to the villagers. Kleber makes the survival of the village matter so when the thrilling climax begins, humanity prevails throughout the bloody and dusty aftermath. But underneath the lovely bohemian traits of the setting is an undercurrent of darkness and strangeness which simmers and bubbles throughout the film, from randomly taking these pills throughout, to broadcasting executions of criminals on television for all to see.
Bacurau is a beautifully dreamlike film with enough shock and tragedy to pull you back into the cold reality it is trying to tell. If you like Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars, or socially charged horrors like Get Out then you owe it to yourself to watch Bacurau.