A Small Town Prepares for War in the Neo-Western BACURAU

[Image from Cinevue]

BACURAU. Country: Brazil / France. Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles. Screenwriter: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles. Language: Portuguese, English. Cast: Barbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Karine Teles, Antonio Saboia, Sonia Braga, Udo Kier. Runtime: 130 minutes. A 57th New York Film Festival Main Slate Selection. US Premiere: October 1, 2019. US Release Date: January 1, 2020.

Mostly Indies rating: B+

Bacurau will come to many as a welcome left turn for director Kleber Mendonça Filho who last hit the American theaters with his cry of outrage called Aquarius in which Sonia Braga bravely fought unscrupulous real estate developers from taking away her house. Thematically, the story of Bacurau is basically the same, but this time, the setting that both directors (Juliano Dornelles co-directs where before he served as production designer) place the setting in a forgotten little place in the middle of nowhere, where the land stretches forever, and people live in harmony together, celebrating life and loss with sensual bravado. It’s a place that more often than not won’t be found on the Google map, but one that developers — again, those pesky bad guys — are eyeballing for future development.

The place is Bacurau, and Teresa (Barbara Colen) arrives just in time to learn that the village’s oldest denizen, Carmelita (Lia de Itamarca) has passed away at 94. The town, far from mourning, is celebrating — all except Domingas (Sonia Braga), the town’s doctor who also serves as the town’s Earth mother. But that’s not the plot point… if anything, this only serves to introduce its quirky characters and their sense of extended family. What introduces the plot proper is the arrival of a shlubby mayor running for office who treats the villagers of Bacurau with incredible condescendence, and conveniently fails to supply the place with the necessary elements to allow the villagers a dignified life.

Once he leaves, the pressure starts to mount: two motorcyclists (Karine Teles and Antonio Saboia) arrive to town, seemingly just touring the land. However, they will bring a sinister plot just behind when it is revealed that they are part of a group of American renegades led by Udo Kier (who hams it up big time as if he were in a B-movie) looking to hunt people for bloodsport. Their arrival signifies a turn for the violent when some of them go rogue and in one chilling moment commit an act of murder so heinous, so horrifying, that I’m glad that the directors stuck to their guns and kept it, if in fact to punctuate that these aren’t your average killers and that Bacurau is set for an epic battle against pure, psychopathic evil.

If you can get past the clunky dialogue that was given to the actors playing the Americans — and it is truly, unequivocally awful; I’ve never seen such talk even in bargain basement grade F movies — Bacurau can be wicked fun. You will love how the village joins forces to combat these human invaders (the movie throws in some flying saucers as distraction, which add some comic relief). Let me just say, it gets messy in Bacurau. Very messy. There’s an approximation to the type of movies Tarantino or the Coen brothers tend to make, complete with a killer scene in which a two villagers creatively dispatch two Americans while in the nude. [That scene received a huge explosion of applause at the October 1 screening at the Alice Tully.] Sandwiched within the madness is a terrific showdown that takes place between Sonia Braga’s character and Udo Kier’s. You keep waiting to see what in the world will happen, since he’s come to lay his claim and anyone who saw Aquarius knows she’s not afraid of confrontation. It all reaches a critical pitch, and serves its story of the old, the traditional, the historic, preserving itself against the new, with a kind of zeal only seen in the craziest of Westerns.

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