Bacurau (2019)

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Food: Across from the Lincoln Center, we pregamed the film at P.J. Clarke’s Restaurant. I got a Downeast Cider, my friends got a glass of red wine and a Campari (which is one of the sponsors of the festival). We shared an order of shishito peppers – these were spicier than the ones at The Smith, and also came with a dipping sauce. I got the Ceasar Salad with Salmon, which hit the spot.

Film: “Bacurau” (2019) is named after a fictional town in the sertão (the northeastern region of Brazil) an area which has been the victim of prejudice from other parts of Brazil, especially in the media. This film offers a chance for natives to flip the lens and tell a story from their perspective. The events of the story take place “a few years from now,” – words that are projected across the screen in what the director team Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles call their greatest special effect. With little effort, the audience is transplanted into the near future, despite progress seeming minimal.

We meet a young woman, Teresa (Barbara Colen), returning to her hometown for the funeral of her mother. Between small interactions throughout the community, viewers develop an understanding about the closeness of this town, the warmth that they share with one another and what is prioritized. Upon Teresa’s arrival, her father, Plinio (Wilson Rabelo), gives her a natural psychotropic drug. There is a bustling brothel, an oft mentioned museum, and a bar in this single-road village. No religious affiliation is mentioned, but the townspeople share a clear spiritual connection. Sonya Bargo makes a dramatic entrance as Bacurau’s doctor, Domingas, wailing angrily at the funeral. Otherwise, though, business is as usual. In an obnoxious parade of his wealth, mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), caravans into town with a moving billboard of himself flickering from the back of his truck. He is greeted with “Fuck you’s!” shouted from the hiding residents, it becomes clear that he is to blame for damming their clean water and limiting their resources. As he fumbles out an announcement about how he hopes that him delivering a gifts “will help reconcile the differences that they have had in the past,” he unloads a dump truck of old books, expired food and potentially noxious medicine. 

Darker omens begin to occur. Bacurau stops showing up on the map and no one is able to access cellular service, essentially isolating them from potential help and creating the notion that technology is being controlled by an unrestrained power. The sprawling tone of the first half of this film quickly becomes more sinister when five dead bodies are found near a plantation, and two ill-fortuned villagers are shot.

Plinio rides through the nighttime desert on his motorbike, when an unearthly drone appears behind him. The expansive outdoor scenery is replaced by a modern property full of wealthy American tourists, led by a harsh German man (Udo Kier). One woman collects the UFO looking drone as it lands near the window, and the group gathers around the table, arguing about how many points they will get for shooting the villagers.

This quickly becomes a twisted safari analogous to “The Most Dangerous Game” (short story by Richard Connell, 1924). Filho and Dornelles found inspiration from American cinema of the 1970’s and Italian spaghetti Westerns, to portray this demented political story about a marginalized community forced to defend themselves. Although the film is meant to reflect situations of the future, the story is actually historical. Brazil has long seen prejudices being used to dis-empower alienated communities, clean water withheld as a power play, and political corruption within their democracy. Speaking at the release of “Bacurau,” several of the actors spoke about how the politics that had once seemed exaggerated for the film, are now reflecting the current state of Brazil (the election of Jair Bolsonaro, following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, is a major threat to modern democracy).

The film also inverses the typical narrative of white American’s villian-izing people from other parts of the world using stereotypes. In “Bacurau,” gun-toting, ignorant and loud-mouthed stock character Americans are the antagonists. The movie never really picks a central character to be our hero, but follows several leads, which feels like an intentional choice to reflect the communal lifestyle of the village. In summation, “Bacurau” is one of the most satisfying and fiercely savage films of the year. It is loads of fun and will have you wincing and cheering audibly in epic sequences of violence, comedic one-liners and distinctive characters.

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