' ' Cinema Romantico: Bacurau

Monday, March 08, 2021


There is a scene midway through “Bacurau” when a couple rides motorbikes into the small village in northeast Brazil backcountry giving directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s movie its name. Dressed in snazzy motorcycle riding suits and emitting a slightly haughty air, these two people passing through eventually prove to be more than tourists though, really, tourists is all they are, looking these people and this place over and instantly drawing conclusions, content in their diagnosis. They enter a convenience store, noting the myriad animal heads on the wall as they purchase drinks. The woman behind the counter explains Bacurau is named for a bird. “Is it extinct?” the motorbiking woman asks. “Not here,” the woman behind the counter replies, “it comes out at night and is a hunter.” She says it so innocently it hardly registers. When the woman behind the counter wonders if they plan on visiting Bacurau’s museum, the bikers confess they didn’t even know there was one. Shortly thereafter, the bikers ride away. They never visit the museum. 

“Bacurau” begins with a clever sleight of hand. As the camera glides over a remote dirt road, the title card stipulates “a few years from now”, suggesting the future. What we come to see, however, despite a drone in the sky briefly evoking an alien invasion movie, does not feel futuristic at all but entirely of the present. Indeed, if cinematic dystopias often feel cut from sci-fi, the one here, where a smarmy Mayor, his very name, Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima), suggesting backroom politics nepotism, damming the local river to make Bacurau dependent upon him for water and delivering mostly useless supplies, feels entirely recognizable, a parallel with modern Brazil. And if Filho’s 2012 film “Neighbouring Sounds” was set in middle class Rio de Janeiro, portraying people as essentially imprisoned within their own middle class homes, in Bacurau the people are fighting against something improbably more ominous: disappearance. When the town’s schoolteacher (Wilson Rabelo) tries showing his students where Bacurau is on an internet map, he discovers it has vanished from GPS, the scene’s context portending old and young alike being wiped from the face of the earth. 
Though Filho and Dornelles tease the Western trope of an outsider entering a new community, presumably to shake things up, with Teresa (Bárbara Colen) returning to Bacurau, suitcase in tow, as the movie opens, presumably setting her up as the main character, she is just sort of folded right back into the collective, which is how “Bacurau” chooses to see these people, diverse and progressive but united. They are mourning the town matriarch’s death as Teresa arrives. The whole community parades down the street, singing, a moment of love counteracted by Bacurau’s drunken doctor (Sonia Braga) verbally sneering at the deceased. The next morning, though, the doctor assists someone hungover from the previous day’s festivities and offers a cot to a man who shows up explaining his wife kicked him out. These are not plot points, just details, deftly adding layers suggesting a place of multiple dimensions rather than a hoary sort of small town simplicity. 

If “Bacurau” is expectedly in Portuguese for its first half, the language suddenly shifts to English when the American villains are introduced. They are a fascinating, unsettling combination of something like private military contractors and white colonialists on safari, like if Clint Eastwood in “White Hunter Black Heart” was remixed into a smattering of violence fetishizing deplorables, some Real Housewives, some militia cosplayers. They are here to murder the population of Bacurau, which they discuss and evaluate in clinical terms, insulated by hard and fast rules of their own perverse version of A Most Dangerous Game. You might, in fact, be compelled to give them a label, a specific label, especially considering their frightful leader, Michael, is a German American played by the German actor Udo Kier. But as if living out Godwin’s Law, one of Michael’s own men gives him that label for us, which Michael turns right back around, chastising for being a lazy cliché. It’s really kind of stunning, almost like an animated op-ed culled from our current time and place where Nazi analogies are criticized as being ignorant of history.

Michael’s colleague might be ignorant to such a loaded term, true, but they are all ignorant to Bacurau’s history too. Striding into an eerily empty town, guns at the ready for the ostensible showdown, one of these white hunters, searching for citizens, backs out of a building and across the street, the camera panning around to reveal him standing before the Bacurau Museum. He goes in and what he finds, in a wondrous series of escalating “oh shit” edits, tells us everything we need to know about will happen before it does. Those who don’t know history...

No comments: