ANOMALY19 REVIEW: Bacurau [2019]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 131 minutes
    Release Date: August 29th, 2019 (Brazil)
    Studio: Vitrine Filmes / Kino Lorber
    Director(s): Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Mendonça Filho
    Writer(s): Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Mendonça Filho

A feast of fear and terror.

It’s been awhile since Teresa (Bárbara Colen) last stepped foot in Bacurau, the small Brazilian village where she was born. Escape has proven the only way to become known outside of one’s neighbors since those who remain entrenched by choice (or necessity) are more or less the sole providers of their own survival. This notion might have begun in the abstract with the obvious contrast between a big city like São Paulo and their humble abode, but it’s been made overtly true with food shortages and a dammed water supply forcing a single truck to travel miles in order to transport the liquid home. And there’s one man who deserves the blame: Mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima). Besides their vote, they offer him nothing of value to help.

This is the world to which Teresa is introduced upon returning to attend the funeral for her grandmother Carmelita—a very important part of this community for ninety-four years. She sees the work her father (Wilson Rabelo‘s Plinio) performs to keep everyone fed, hears tales of local revolutionary Lunga (Silvero Pereira) causing trouble at the dam to sabotage the government’s willful disdain for the country’s tiniest of villages, and discovers the criminal she left behind (Thomas Aquino‘s Pacote) has turned over a new leaf. So they celebrate Carmelita’s life, enjoy each other’s company, and wake to another morning of struggle. If not for a stampede of horses, Teresa might have left without witnessing what comes next. UFO drones, neon-clad motorcyclists, and a trail of bodies are just the beginning.

Writers/directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho know exactly what they’re doing as each of these aspects arrives out of nowhere to force us into thinking one thing before revealing something completely different. Putting the text “a few years from now” is the first such example because it alludes to a type of science fiction that their film is not. We do eventually see some advanced technological gear like transparent communication devices and the aforementioned drones, but it’s only to create a separation between heroes and villains—us and them. Where the people of Bacurau don’t have water, their unknown intruders have access to whatever their minds can imagine. Teresa’s home has figuratively (and literally) vanished from our collective consciousness and in doing so has become sorely underestimated.

Welcome to the present and the First World’s unabashed entitlement when it comes to flaunting superiority as a God-given right and not a product of deception and genocide. We discount entire countries because of the actions of small factions within. We label them enemies not just of us, but those like us too as though we speak for everyone and aren’t worse enough to earn all their rage for ourselves. So we start wars we have no intention of finishing, bomb civilian outposts because it’s easier to write off collateral damage than even consider a compromise, and paint them as monsters/heathens/savages who aren’t as righteous and deserving (read amoral and opportunistic) as we are. Give us what we desire and we’ll eradicate whomever you want.

That’s the game. I don’t want to give away specifics since Bacurau‘s surprise factor is brilliant and, also, funny. This sense of the absurd only feels that way initially, though, since its presence soon proves its humor lies in its authenticity. The hubris wielded by outsiders threatening this village’s safety (led by Udo Kier‘s Michael) is immense and a major source of comedy—both silly and subtle. It’s the latter that truly shines to make audiences acknowledge their own prejudice where it comes to gazing upon “the other” as curiosity rather than point of education. We laugh when residents ask these strangers if they’ve come to visit the museum because they obviously haven’t. That’s a mistake, though, since it’s through a people’s history that you can understand their strength.

Not that we can’t see theirs without it. Whether the love for Carmelita, sternness of village doctor Domingas (Sônia Braga), or Pacote’s willingness to steel himself to what must be done despite his newfound identity, these people aren’t going to simply lie down. That courage gets them into trouble—casualties are the quickest way to recognize something is fatally amiss—but it also brings them together. And even this is misleading thanks to Dornelles and Filho’s continual blurring of the line between mourning and readiness. Are they digging a grave or trench? Readying themselves to die or kill? It’s interesting too that Bacurau embraces its culture and traditions to unwittingly disarm Michael’s crew. But just as an antique gun still packs a deadly punch, so too can a naked gardener.

It all leads to a rousing climax of violent surprises and poignant commentary as far as where quiet communities in forgotten parts of the globe stand against behemoths with unlimited resources. No amount of money can contend with the determination inherent to a tight-knit, family-oriented people, though. Where frustrations, ego, and a visible lack of loyalty cause fracturing amongst the former, adversity only pushes the latter closer. The future soon becomes a mirror onto the past (those versed in Brazilian history have an additional layer of substance to enjoy) with entertaining action, suspense, and gore. A wealth of human drama and emotion therefore lends weight so Bacurau can transcend genre stereotypes and show why it was Brazil’s runner-up submission for a potential International Film Oscar nomination.

[1] Sônia Braga in a scene from Bacurau, photo by Victor Jucá.
[2] Udo Kier in a scene from Bacurau, courtesy Kino Lorber.
[3] Bárbara Colen in a scene from Bacurau, photo by Victor Jucá.

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