Tatler Review: Bacurau (2019)
Set in a fictional village in the middle of nowhere in Brazil, strange events unfold after the grand matriarch passes away. Bacurau is painted as a lonely isolated town.
Water has been cut off due to political pressures from the capital. Residents recreationally indulge in an indigenous drug to dull the dreadful conditions in which they live in. A politician occasionally visits for photo ops, donating books and canned goods which later turn out to be expired. This is the dreary picture directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles paint for the audience. The film’s pace is painfully slow; not much goes on until one resident is followed home by a UFO.
The UFO turns out to be a monitoring device of a group of Americans who have travelled to Brazil in order to indulge in a killing spree. They start by removing Bacurau from the map and cutting off their power. Then they begin to plot on how to eradicate the entire village. The third act of the film carries most of the dramatic tension and action — after all that posturing, it’s the Americans versus the town residents in a wild wild west stand-off.
Who wins? You’ll have to catch the movie to find out. It’s not difficult to see why Bacurau won the Cannes Jury Prize this year. However, it might not be a fun watch for everyone. The satisfaction in watching this film comes from its intellectual challenge.
It seems to be ‘all depth’ with the narrative as a stand-in for the production’s criticism against Brazil’s political climate. Bacurau critiques many aspects of the politics of today — bloodthirsty Americans, starving natives, expired food provisions, corrupt politicians, blatant violence — there’s a lot to take in and by the end of it, one is left with a feeling of mental exhaustion.
The film is alienating; not only for its strange premise but more so for its indirect storytelling. Every scene seems to allude to something else—a funeral is not merely a moment of mourning or a battle scene not merely an action-packed sequence.
There’s always something beneath the surface. Watching Bacurau feels like reading a long novel insistent on keeping you on your toes. It’s incredibly sophisticated and complex. Some might even say this is what cinema should strive for — an unapologetic display of technique and ideology.
Bacurau will easily go down as one of the most intellectually engaging films I’ve seen to date. However, I'll probably be needing a glass of wine (or two) for the next time I catch it!
Bacurau and other excellent films are available in Philippine cinemas thanks to the annual Q Cinema Festival. To know more, visit: qcinema.ph.