Bacurau by Kleber Mendonça Filho is an exhilarating mixture of genres – political satire, western, science fiction – underpinned by savage political and social comment. It’s a blast.
Community Spiritby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Bacurau is a remote village with a happily diverse community in the vast Serra Verde of northeast Brazil. But it seems to have disappeared off the map and it’s losing phone and internet access. Even more crucial immediately, it is deprived of water, which now has to be brought in by the tanker-load, caused by the building of a local dam, thanks to a corrupt local mayor Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima). The film opens with a lorry crash on the road in which it has ominously spilled its load of coffins.
After the village is brought together by the funeral of their venerable community leader Carmelita (Lia de Itamaracá), it starts to suffer the unexplained shooting of residents in outlying farms, which they’re alerted to by the phenomenon of horses stampeding down the main street. Then the random killings get closer and closer to home: these and other strange happenings, like flying saucers, cause consternation because they’re beyond normal comprehension.
SPOILER ALERT NEXT PARAGRAPH
There’s a shocking explanation. Like European wild-animal trophy hunters going on big-game safari in Africa, there’s a group of Americans who have paid to do the same in Brazil – because, after all, brown lives don’t matter any more than if they were wild animals. And the hunters have the latest technology to help them track down their human prey. But to their surprise, the villagers are not just passive victims.
Everyone in Bacurau plays a wonderful role, it’s an ensemble piece, but the legendary Sonia Braga is particularly memorable as Dr Dominga, foul-mouthed and aggressive when drunk, professional and fearless when sober, and unrecognisably, disreputably, visibly aged instead of looking her normally glamorous self. Cult actor Udo Kier is an unprincipled gringo tour leader. Notable others are flamboyant Lunga (Silvero Pereira), a resistance fighter against the hated dam; Pacote (Thomas Aquino), a reformed criminal with a compilation of his greatest CCTV hits on YouTube; Plinio (Wilson Rabelo), the reasonable school master in charge of the local school that is named in discreet homage to director John Carpenter; and elderly Daimiano (Carlos Francisco), nurturing his plants in the nude.
Bacurau is a savage political satire of the American exploitation of Brazil (or the First World of the Third World in general), endemic Brazilian corruption at both local and national levels and the racist attitudes that feed that exploitation and corruption.
The violent, bloody community spirit that flourishes under the influence of the powerful psychotropic drugs with which the residents of Bacurau fight back – a spaghetti western nod to Sergio Leone – is exhilarating and worryingly inspirational. It should be said that it is also criminally reprehensible – although as there is no law presence in a province which is left to its own devices, it seems unlikely that this matters.
In Bacurau director Kleber Mendonça Filho builds on his attack on political corruption in Rio de Janeiro in his previous film Aquarius, which also starred a more fragrant Sonia Braga in a legal battle.
Bacurau premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize, screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 13 March 2020 in the UK. It is available on Curzon Home Cinema.
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“A stunning and furious piece of social commentary”
“Outlandish… A jolting allegorical bloodbath”