BacurauReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/31/20 13:02:22
(Worth A Look)
For a film set in the near future where government is apparently on the verge of collapse, allowing a group of sadists to terrorize the less fortunate, "Bacurau" is relatively light on violence over the course of its 131 minutes (though what's there is intense) and doesn't particularly go in for complex world-building. What it's got is a strangely reassuring blend of properly directed anger and recognition that anger alone isn't enough. It's a movie that suggests that civilization isn't necessarily doomed just because things are going to hell.And they are; as Teresa (Bárbara Colen) and Erivaldo (Rubens Santos) drive a truck back to the village of the title, there are people buying and selling the coffins that have scattered across the street after a traffic accident, a price has been put on the heads of revolutionaries Lunga (Silvero Pereira) and Pacote (Thomas Quino), and the river that is the local source of potable water has been dammed upstream; Erivaldo will have to several miles out of his way to fill his tanker up. Teresa is there for her grandmother's funeral - nonagenarian Carmelita was beloved by most and even those that clashed with her like Doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) had a grudging respect. At first, it seems as if her death has knocked the world off its axis; Bacurau has vanished from online maps and a flying saucer follows a deliveryman on the road. Soon, though, it becomes clear that there are darker force than grandstanding and corrupt district mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima) converging on Bacurau, led by a mysterious expatriate (Udo Kier).
The previous feature films of co-writer/co-director Kleber Mendonça Filho have apparently been focused on specific small slivers of communities, and the strength of this movie can be found in the way this film immerses its audience in the small world that the predators threaten. Carmelita's funeral is allowed to play out in seeming full, the rituals given the importance they hold for the locals, even if they are ragged and unusual at various points. The town has a museum, and its modest building is allowed to feel more like the center of town than the church (which is historically made to be such), solidifying the connections to the community rather than some outside authority. And while on the one hand the way the town retreats and shuts Tony Jr. out when he comes to campaign is meant to foreshadow how a later sequence will continue, their rejection of him is immediately contrasted with the way the community shares his laughable largesse. There's dignity, cooperation, and a sense of shared purpose in how they handle things, and the presentation of that feels practical but also utopian in a conscious, organized way, compared to the usual community of outcasts grasping at each other.
Filho's partner in crime Juliano Dornelles has spent much of his career in film doing art design, and while he may not be solely responsible for how this community presents itself as vibrant and eccentric, it's probably fair to guess that he had a big hand in it, and it makes Bacurau a memorable place, in many cases built out of recycled and repurposed materials. It never feels post-apocalyptic, though, or too much like someone trying too hard to impress; it's eccentric but natural. There's a grounded futurism to the other side of the film, from the flying saucer that plays a neat trick with how audiences see movies to the sleekly utilitarian bunker. Even the more futuristic moments feel grounded.
There's purpose when the two collide, as Dornelles and Filho crank up tension as violence comes closer but never forget that this sort of thing is often notoriously one-sided - the tension is often not in the back and forth of a fight but in how people will edge toward pulling a trigger and how they react to it. The action itself is ugly and often on the gory side, but the part that sticks with a viewer is the moments before and after, and whether that ferocity has a worthy purpose. There's satisfaction in watching the people of the village defend it against privileged nihilists who attack, but not quite pleasure; doing violence means being separate from the rest.
The audience notices that it part because the film offers up enough characters to actually feel like an actual sample of sorts: Even before it takes some time to introduce Udo Kier's Michael and his crew, a couple dozen people have been introduced and named, and a few others have become familiar enough to feel like more than background extras. The audience is encouraged to view events through the eyes of Bárbara Colen's Teresa at first, and she does a fine job of bringing the audience into the movie, accentuating the joy of this place through how she returns during a sad moment, but there's not a particularly weak link to be found once she's been allowed to join the crowd. It's not surprising that the likes of Sonia Braga and Udo Kier show why they are more famous internationally - they offer sharp performances that give their characters some weight even when not particularly likable - and it wouldn't be surprising if Thomas Aquino eventually joins them; he's got charisma that lets Pacote straddle the line between the village and the revolutionaries.It's an impressive thing it pulls off, being nastily violent but also whimsical and even optimistic in a way that fits together much better than one might expect. Not quite the wild ride it's been portrayed as in some quarters, but in a few years, it might be seen as one of the best movies at capturing the spirit of the late teens/early twenties in full.
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