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Film Review: Bacurau

27 May 20 words: Charlie and George Alexander

Kleber Filho’s Bacurau is a unique and unhinged tale of corruption, community and survival in the Brazilian outback.

Directors: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
Starring: Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen
Running time: 132 minutes

From the outset, the film is glazed in captivating ambiguity. Images of stacked up coffins and a ritualistic funeral cleverly instil a foreboding combination of dread and intrigue. Filho executes an enticingly atmospheric introduction, the narrative; stark but magnetic. We are introduced to the Bacurau community: one of togetherness, self-sufficiency and respect but clearly isolated and hiding many battle scars. Filho works impeccably to achieve a sense of gruelling hostility towards the world beyond Bacurau and, upon learning they have been literally removed from the geographical map the community begin looking for answers.

Now, with their only water-supply vehicle damaged, it’s hard to ignore that a targeted attack is imminent and Filho captures this through generating an escalating urgency and increasing pace. The disorder isn’t helped when two suspicious bikers enter the town unannounced, looking for a drink. Omnipresent hostility is skilfully interwoven by Filho, as you find yourself just as confused as the people of Bacurau - rooting for clues and hints as to who might be culpable. Things go from bad to worse and we soon realise that the water tank is the least of their issues and they are under severe threat. The film hits a premature peak at this midpoint as it takes us captive in this tale of a united civilisation’s attempt at defending against an unknown but impending danger. 

A very dynamic and compelling drama with a powerful political message

However, just as the tension reaches its boiling point, the entire mystery of the story is somewhat under-whelmingly revealed. Notwithstanding Udo Kier’s menacing performance, the tentative angst that was crafted so eloquently in the first half of the film becomes partially marred by a seismic and incoherent tonal shift — damaging what presented itself as an ambitious and mystifying tale. With this, the film surprisingly diverts towards a totally different aura with it becoming overtly brutal and inhumane — neglecting the pleasurable intrigue and captivation that Filho had so much success with in the first half.

The narrative now travels at unprecedented speed as both parties gather all their armament and personnel in aid of the approaching battle. We are introduced to notorious vigilante ‘Junga’ and with his help the town of Bacurau embark on a mission of survival against the aggressors, who are powered by nothing but their animalistic lust for death and pain. Their barbaric plans are as horrifying as they are perplexing and this is frustrating after a near-perfect crafted first hour. Yet the finale itself does not disappoint with a great gust of brutality and violence complimented by the evocative imagery of cinematographer Pedro Sotero. 

Filho’s stylish and emotive approach to the opening does a massive service in transfixing us into the world of this beautifully powerful community. Yet, with the discordant narrative shift mid-way through, it slightly loses what made it such a promising film. It would be a massive discredit to completely write it off, as it is fantastically authentic and original. A very dynamic and compelling drama with a powerful political message against the onslaught of rural Brazil from new president Bolsonaro. Yet, under a cinematic scope its tonal incoherence disappoints - slightly detaching us from a potentially powerful story of bravery and community in Bacurau.

Did you know? Broadway Cinema and Mayhem Film Festival hosted a tweet-along viewing of the film in March. 

Bacurau is available to rent now

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