A heightened state

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on Mad Max, Blade Runner and the politics of water in Bacurau

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Kleber Mendonça Filho with Anne-Katrin Titze on Bacurau being set a few years in the future: “It’s a heightened state.”
Kleber Mendonça Filho with Anne-Katrin Titze on Bacurau being set a few years in the future: “It’s a heightened state.” Photo: Juliano Dornelles

In the second part of my in-depth conversation with Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on Bacurau, their Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner (shared with Ladj Ly’s International Oscar shortlisted film Les Misérables), a Roman Polanski Chinatown connection to the struggles with water shortage in the Northeast of Brazil was made. Kleber commented on George Miller’s original Mad Max from 1979, where the story is set a few years from now, which “puts you in a state of suspension”, noted that we’ve now reached the year Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 1982 took place, and marvelled if it hadn’t been a stronger choice to skip the year 2019 and merely set it in a perpetual future.

Juliano Dornelles on Bacurau: “It was always the idea to make a genre film, to transport the viewer to another atmosphere.”
Juliano Dornelles on Bacurau: “It was always the idea to make a genre film, to transport the viewer to another atmosphere.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Bacurau, shot by Pedro Sotero (Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius and Neighboring Sounds), edited by Eduardo Serrano (Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull and Divine Love), costumes by Rita Azevedo, has a formidable ensemble cast including Sônia Braga, Udo Kier and Bárbara Colen, Alli Willow, Chris Doubek, Thomas Aquino, Jonny Mars, Karine Teles, Suzy Lopes, Brian Townes, Antonio Saboia, Silvero Pereira, Márcio Fecher, and Val Junior.

Films by John Carpenter, Sergio Corbucci, Eduardo Coutinho, and others selected by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles will screen in the program Mapping Bacurau at Film at Lincoln Center, organised by Dennis Lim and Tyler Wilson early next year.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Bacurau is a full film. It’s very full. I see another reference in my notes, another film named after a location. Chinatown and the issue of the water.

Kleber Mendonça Filho: Chinatown!

Juliano Dornelles: You are bringing a lot of new things!

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau at night
Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau at night

KMF: You bring up Chinatown, which is of course a wonderful film and a very interesting reference. However, it has to be said, the Northeast of Brazil struggles for a hundred years with water shortage.

JD: More than a hundred.

KMF: Which in a way comes from the dry, semi-arid region. But it’s actually a man-made, political problem.

AKT: It’s very clear that what we see in your film is grounded in real life, in the politics of now. That is never in question. It’s the way you present this to us that makes it possible for audiences all over the world to go into different directions and relate to it.

KMF: But it’s great that you mention Chinatown, because the water problem in Chinatown is also man-made.

JD: To have control, to bargain with something.

Bacarau opens in the UK on March 13, 2020
Bacarau opens in the UK on March 13, 2020

AKT: You set the film a few years in the future, a few years from now. Did you discuss the possibility that it isn’t even necessary?

KMF: I love it.

JD: Me too.

KMF: It’s a heightened state.

JD: It was always the idea to make a genre film, to transport the viewer to another atmosphere. This is very important to us. But things started to happen in Brazil in an already very similar way with the things in the script. There was a moment when during post-production in France we considered the idea of putting “A few months from now” not “A few years” because the reality was going to the film in a very strong way.

AKT: I like it too that it’s in the future, the feel of openness it has.

KMF: I think that’s part of the effect. I also say that it’s a very cheap special effect. Because it instantly puts the viewer in an interesting state of mind. It’s the future. And of course some of the great films … For instance, the first Mad Max begins with “A few years from now.” It immediately puts you in a state of suspension. And I love that.

AKT: Also we allow it to come emotionally closer to us because it’s not real.

KMF: Yeah, none of this is real.

AKT: I can relax and enjoy this. What does it have to do with me?

Bacurau opens at Film at Lincoln Center on March 6 and the film program Mapping Bacurau starts on March 13, 2020
Bacurau opens at Film at Lincoln Center on March 6 and the film program Mapping Bacurau starts on March 13, 2020 Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

KMF: Exactly.

JD: The film ends and everybody is “Oh my god.”

KMF: I like the genre convention of putting it in the future. I don’t like very much when wonderful films put a date. Because they get old. This year, for instance, we reached Blade Runner. And it’s kind of disappointing. If Blade Runner was the future, I think it would be stronger watching it.

AKT: I saw 12.20.20 somewhere written on a truck in Bacurau, I don’t really remember. That was not to be a date?

KMF: I think it’s a telephone number.

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

Read what Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles had to say on a connection to François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and in the editing process Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia for Bacurau.

Coming up - Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on Udo Kier, Alli Willow, the horses as a “marker that this is a western” and the siege, the attack, and the sense of destruction that comes from the outside in Bacurau.

Bacurau is scheduled to open in the US on March 6 at Film at Lincoln Center and in the UK on March 13, 2020.

Mapping Bacurau at Film at Lincoln Center will take place from March 13 through March 19.

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