CAPSULE: BACURAU (2019)

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DIRECTED BY:  Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

FEATURING: Bárbara Colen, , Sonia Braga, Thomas Aquino

PLOT: A group of killers isolate a small Brazilian village intending to massacre the residents for recreation, but find the peasants are more resourceful than they anticipated.

Still from Bacurau (2019)

COMMENTS: Seeing the word “weird” used to describe a movie like Bacurau reminds us just how jaded we here at 366 Weird Movies are. The only unusual features of this Brazilian export are its slightly unconventional blend of art-house drama with ballsy genre filmmaking, along with some mild psychotropic visions and one quirky flying-saucer shaped drone. It may be a weird brew for general American audiences—the ones who would never go see a foreign or independent film anyway—or to professional critics who prefer to stick to the realist side of the art-house scene… but this sociological-study-cum-shoot-em-up isn’t exactly Let the Corpses Tan.

With it’s magnificent landscapes, including some local cacti that could pass for Saguaro, Bacurau evokes the mythic West of Sergio Leone: it could be Once Upon a Time in Brazil. The opening scene includes a litter of coffins spilled onto the road leading into town, which sure reinforces that connection. By the end, when the resourceful tribe defends their eerily deserted town from the better-equipped invaders, the Bacurau takes on the shape of The Seven Samurai.

The first forty-five minutes paint a portrait of the hamlet of perhaps one hundred souls, planted in the middle of nowhere. A matriarch, the ancestor of a large percentage of the population, has just died, and nursing student Teresa returns, bearing a suitcase of vaccines, to attend her grandmother’s funeral. The town has a teacher, a doctor, a whore, a DJ who serves as the town crier and local news anchor when not pumping out the jams, and so forth; it also has a rather large library and a museum devoted to the town’s history. Things get strange when Bacurau suddenly disappears from Google Maps, a UFO is spotted, and bullet holes are found in the tanker truck that supplies them with fresh water. The nature of the trouble soon becomes apparent; a tour group of American thrill-killers have paid a small fortune to hunt these forgotten people for sport. The killing starts in the final act, but although squibs are not spared and plenty of red stuff splashes around, it’s not the action-packed bloodbath you might expect. Steering away from exploitative spectacle as much as possible (given the scenario), the killings are spread out, as the invaders are picked off one by one. You might guess that Udo Kier, the oldest, evilest, and most famous of the bad guys is the last one to go. I’ll never tell.

Many note that with the sympathetic portrayal of the villagers’ “degeneracy” (casual nudity and free love, acceptance of homosexuality, and liberal use of ethnobotonicals)—and the presence of crooked con-man mayor Tony Jr., representing provincial corruption—the film takes its shots at homophobic, right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Capitalism itself also comes in for quite a thrashing. On the other hand, Bolsonaro might be pleased with the film’s xenophobia aimed at the stereotyped Western interlopers (Kier is not a Nazi, he insists, shooting a companion to prove his point). He might also approve of the derision heaped on the invaders’ big city Brazilian allies, traitorous globalist collaborators shamelessly manipulated by shadowy outsiders. The line between anti-colonialism and populist nationalism is thin indeed.

Pulled from American theaters early due to the Covid-19 crisis, Bacurau is currently streaming via Kino Now. They have thoughtfully set up a system whereby the independent theaters that were supposed to screen the film can share the streaming revenue (check here for the list of participating venues). Kino probably could have kept all the revenue to themselves, as Disney did with the digital release of Onward, so they deserve massive respect for this move. Bacurau is not only a quality film, it’s a good way to support small (and big) businesses in a dry season.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“’Bacurau’ is definitely weird, a quasi-Western mashed up with psychedelic sci-fi and political satire.”–Jeffrey Anderson, San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

3 thoughts on “CAPSULE: BACURAU (2019)”

  1. Supporting indie theaters in a dry season is exactly why I watched Bacurau. Visually stunning and enjoyable, but it could easily be cut to about 90 minutes and you wouldn’t lose anything essential.

    It is odd how many outlets seem to want to position this film as “weird” “John Carpenter-esque” or as neo grindhouse when there is a much clearer through line to the long tradition of political allegory wrapped up in a genre bow

    1. I haven’t seen this yet, but I suspect the choice of descriptors has to do with marketing. “Political Allegory” films can be very good and very enjoyable; it’s not a money-spinning genre, though.

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