Bacurau

Bacurau is unique. You’ll recognize the individual parts, but the assemblage is something different.

It has elements of westerns, action, sci-fi, but places emphasis on an isolated town and its community of odd-ish characters.

It’s kinda hypnotic, but not obviously so. The pace isn’t glacial, but it is measured. Without realizing it I found myself pulled into this desolate, Brazilian location, its suffocating heat, and its tightknit group of people: barkeeps, prostitutes, doctors, …revolutionaries (?!),  a symbiotic lot that have lived in the same town for generations.

They seem like good people, non-judgmental, there for each other, but, yeah…don’t fuck with ‘em.

Yup, this isn’t just a movie about a small town and its inhabitants. There’s more, and that more is steeped in genre. You see, there’s something weird going on this story, but what makes it intriguing is how it’s presented. Information mostly hangs out in the periphery. If you crave exposition, you won’t find much of it here. But it’s not maddingly opaque either. There’s quite a bit of world-building; it’s just hard to see, like being too close to a painting, the details are there, crisp, but the larger picture is impossible to see. If you watch this movie passively it’ll seem like nothing much happens until the end. Pay attention to the off-hand remarks, stolen glances, the news reports in the background and something deeper emerges.

The movie opens on a starfield. The camera pans to the left to reveal that we’re in space, looking down at the earth. A satellite comes into view; it’s hovering over Brazil. The camera pulls down closer and closer to the landmass and the film’s titular location, but if you look up a little, are those swaths of fire and thick black smoke? Attention isn’t brought to it, but if you see it, you see it.

As you get closer to the land and its people the more clues you get that something’s not quite right. The writers/directors, Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Mendonça Filho, only give you one big hint, superimposed words over the image, “A few years in the future.” But there’s talk of troubles in the country, highway closures, and casual comments about Lungan, where he might be hiding and how the police are desperate to find him.

The questions deepen as we get closer to the town of Bacurau. Why is their water dammed off? Why is the town wiped off the GPS? Why don’t they have cell phone signals anymore? Did those off-road bikers, condescending tourists in the bright neon jumpsuits, have something to do with that?

Now, the movie builds slowly to its reveals (though again, a lot is left to interpretation), so you may not want to know what happens next. I already knew some spoilers from plot summaries and was still thoroughly entertained, but, yeah, some spoilery stuff is about to happen if you want to avoid them.

Shades of The Most Dangerous Game appear. A group of heavily armed white dudes and dudettes hang around ominously on the outskirts of town, each with a conspicuous white earpiece in their left ears. Who’s on the other side giving them instructions? Don’t know. Never explained.  

As we spend time with these weekend warriors (and we do spend some time with them) we begin to understand something, they look tough and scary, but they’re entitled, ignorant and stupid, small people with big guns, the type of misguided folks that would storm our Capitol. In other words, they’re idiots, but still very dangerous.

Here’s where the movie shifts into genre territory and it is the point where I became just a little disappointed. As these despicables move into the town to hunt their “pray,” the tables are turned, but the movie holds back a little too much. True, one dude, who’s stalking a seemingly docile naked old man, innocently watering his garden, unexpectedly gets his head blown clean off in glorious detail by an ancient shotgun. It’s a marvel of practical and cg effects.

As high minded and hoity toity as I like to think I am, I’m still a sucker for an asshole looking for trouble and receiving their just deserts.

But the rest is a bit of a letdown. Some of these guys, fuck, needed some retribution. One dude kills a kid earlier in the movie, just shoots him, but he’s taken down off camera. Respect to the filmmakers for their restraint and lack of bloodlust, but if you’re dabbling in grindhousey elements, you probably should give in to them a little more.

Still, there are great moments like when the antagonists walk into the Bacurau History Museum, oft mentioned throughout the film, and realize just who they’re messing with.

Using suggestion, Bacurau says quite a bit without having to come out and say it. It touches on themes of colonialism and imperialism, rich vs. poor, and a whole host of other ideas, like the strength of community and that strange pull of your home, your roots. Had it just given itself over a little more to its action elements, this would have been something really special for me. As it stands, it’s still really good, though.

-Pavel Klein


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