In directions nobody goes

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on Bacurau

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on the first shot in Bacarau: “It’s also kind of an homage to John Carpenter’s opening for two of his films, Starman and The Thing.”
Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on the first shot in Bacarau: “It’s also kind of an homage to John Carpenter’s opening for two of his films, Starman and The Thing.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles' Bacurau, shot by Pedro Sotero (Aquarius, Neighboring Sounds), edited by Eduardo Serrano (Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull, Divine Love), costumes by Rita Azevedo, and starring Sônia Braga, Udo Kier and Bárbara Colen, had its world première at the Cannes Film Film Festival, where it won the jury prize (shared with Ladj Ly's Les Misérables). It was a highlight of the New York Film Festival. Bacurau is breathtaking from the start with Gal Costa singing Não Identificado by Caetano Veloso.

Sônia Braga is Domingas in Bacurau, not in Boyhood or Exit Through The Gift Shop
Sônia Braga is Domingas in Bacurau, not in Boyhood or Exit Through The Gift Shop Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the first instalment of my conversation with the directors, they make a connection to François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and in the editing process Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. I bring up Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds with Jessica Tandy and juxtapose Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in Vincente Minnelli’s Brigadoon to Udo Kier and Sônia Braga in Bacurau.

From outer space and through the stars we discover Earth and land on a little spot in the Northeast of Brazil, called Bacurau. It isn't found on any map and you might even think that it is a kind of Brigadoon, a village that regularly sinks into the sands of time. We are not in the past, but in the future, one so close that you can almost touch the splendid sunsets, while wondering about the many coffins being delivered.

Anne-Katrin Titze: When we spoke about Aquarius, I remember you telling me how important it was for you that we in the audience always know exactly where we are.

Kleber Mendonça Filho: Yes, yes.

AKT: I thought about that with your first shot of the stars and the Earth.

KMF: Round.

AKT: Yes, round. This is where we are, don’t you forget it.

KMF: But it’s also kind of an homage to John Carpenter’s opening for two of his films, Starman and…

Juliano Dornelles: The Thing.

Kate (Alli Willow) with Willy (Chris Doubek) in Bacurau
Kate (Alli Willow) with Willy (Chris Doubek) in Bacurau

KMF: And The Thing. It opens in space and then turns to the left or to the right and there is Earth.

JD: But it makes it more special to us because the camera dives into South America and then dives to the Northeast of Brazil. Not Cape Canaveral or Europe. Nobody goes in those directions where we go in our film.

AKT: I thought of Casablanca, too.

KMF: Yeah, of course. It’s the classic.

AKT: It couldn’t be any more classic a start to orient us.

KMF: The other thing we like about the opening is this beautiful track from 1969 by Caetano Veloso sung by Gal Costa, which is Não Identificado - Non Identified. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful track from Tropicalia. And there is something very unexpected about listening to that with those expensive CGI shots. Very industrial, kind of Hollywood CGI shots and then this beautiful sweet Brazilian song from 1969.

AKT: Lots of juxtapositions in Bacurau. Other movies came to mind. The one I was most amused by was Brigadoon.

KMF: Brigadoon? That’s the first time that that comes up.

AKT: You never thought of it?

Funeral in Bacurau
Funeral in Bacurau

KMF: No, tell me about it!

AKT: You know the film?

KMF: Yes, of course.

AKT: Well, a village that is not on the map. Two hunters arrive in the village. If it had been another time, maybe Udo Kier and Sônia could be Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly. We first get to know the village through a wedding in one, a funeral in the other.

KMF: Never thought about it! It’s been like this. There are references that are inside us and there are references that are thought and discussed. For instance when Pacote [played by Thomas Aquino] is taking his dead friends in the back of the car he’s driving in a jeep and he’s screaming at them.

JD: The dead bodies.

KMF: Juliano pointed out in the editing process, not in the script or in the shoot, in the editing process, that this is Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia from Sam Peckinpah.

JD: He spends the whole film talking to a head in a bag.

Pages 1 and 2 of Anne-Katrin Titze’s Bacurau film notes
Pages 1 and 2 of Anne-Katrin Titze’s Bacurau film notes Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: You weren’t aware of some of the references.

KMF: No, but they exist in us. And then later you realise. Or maybe somebody like you comes and yes, yes. But we didn’t.

AKT: I didn’t expect it to be fully conscious but the name and a fictional town that disappears from the Earth was a connection I made. Probably because Metrograph recently had a Minnelli retrospective and Brigadoon was one of the films they showed. Another thought, when they find the bodies at the farm was The Birds.

KMF: I never thought of The Birds.

AKT: The farmer who has his eyes pecked out, found by Jessica Tandy?

KMF: Oh, there’s a guy just sitting against a wall? Yes. In fact I was shooting another scene. Juliano set up that scene. We never discussed The Birds.

AKT: What about Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451?

KMF: That did come up because of the books in the truck. But the books are not being destroyed. They are actually being given away like trash. Which is a kind of a twist.

AKT: We don’t know that yet, when they arrive. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with them.

Bacurau Cannes Film Festival poster
Bacurau Cannes Film Festival poster

KMF: It’s a gift, given in a very kind of grotesque way.

JD: Some kind of behaviour that we can relate to many politicians in Brazil, because they only donate things that aren’t important to them. But they can make a lot of profit from it.

AKT: The cynicism in this gesture is revolting.

JD: I mean votes.

AKT: His arrival is that of The Rainmaker.

KMF: With his paraphernalia of technology to impress. Which is actually a sign that everyone should disappear. Which is probably the worst offence they can do to the mayor, because politicians want to be popular. And he’s not very popular in Bacurau.

JD: And there’s one thing in the lyrics of the mayor’s jingle that he plays. There’s a line that says “Walking among the people” and then he’s all alone in that village and it’s kind of interesting, ironic.

KMF: You got a wide-angle shot that shows all of the village, that starts in a medium shot and then it pulls back, back, back.

Read what Sônia Braga had to say on working with Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on Bacurau and The Paris Theatre.

Bacurau is scheduled to open in the UK on March 6, 2020

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