Another layer

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles on Udo Kier, Alli Willow and Bacurau

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Juliano Dornelles on Michael in Bacurau: “When Udo Kier’s character said to the outsiders about the Brazilian collaborators, ‘They don’t speak Brazilian here.’ Brazilian, it’s not a name.”
Juliano Dornelles on Michael in Bacurau: “When Udo Kier’s character said to the outsiders about the Brazilian collaborators, ‘They don’t speak Brazilian here.’ Brazilian, it’s not a name.”

In celebration of the theatrical release of Bacurau in New York, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles will present Mapping Bacurau, a program of films that include John Sayles’s Lone Star, (starring Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey, Elizabeth Peña); Colin Eggleston’s Long Weekend (with John Hargreaves, Briony Behets); Paul Morrissey’s Blood For Dracula (with Udo Kier as the Count, Vittorio De Sica as the aristocratic landowner, Joe Dallesandro as the estate caretaker, produced by Carlo Ponti); 70mm print of John Carpenter’s Starman (Karen Allen, Jeff Bridges); Ted Kotcheff’s Wake In Fright (Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond), and a 4K restoration of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man: The Final Cut (Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland).

Kleber Mendonça Filho with Juliano Dornelles on Bacurau: “The horses for us is a very interesting marker that this is a Western. They’re beautiful animals, the way they move.”
Kleber Mendonça Filho with Juliano Dornelles on Bacurau: “The horses for us is a very interesting marker that this is a Western. They’re beautiful animals, the way they move.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Bacurau, shot by Pedro Sotero (Aquarius, Neighboring Sounds), edited by Eduardo Serrano (Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull, Divine Love), costumes by Rita Azevedo, with a formidable ensemble cast including Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, 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, had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Film Festival, where it won the jury prize (shared with Ladj Ly's Oscar nominated and 11 times César nominated Les Misérables).

In the final instalment of my in-depth conversation with Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles during the 57th New York Film Festival, we discussed the roles of Udo Kier and Alli Willow, language creating another layer, 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.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The shots with the horses - that’s a very beautiful but eerie scene.

Kleber Mendonça Filho: The horses for us is a very interesting marker that this is a Western. You’re watching a Western, old fashioned. We have horses. That’s basically the idea. But it had to be beautiful. They’re beautiful animals, the way they move.

AKT: They are beautiful.

Silvero Pereira is Lunga in Bacurau
Silvero Pereira is Lunga in Bacurau

Juliano Dornelles: It took us about six hours to shoot that scene.

KMF: Some of the horses ran away. But we’re very pleased with it.

AKT: We don’t know what is going on at that moment.

JD: The rest of the story is in the film.

KMF: It suggests that something is wrong somewhere. Animals on the loose.

JD: It can only be from Manelito’s farm [the Tarairu farm]. So something happened there. So they need to investigate this.

AKT: Apropos investigate, one of the moments that had the strongest impact on me was when those two who go to check out the farm …

JD: Flavio [Márcio Fecher] and Maciel [Val Junior].

Kleber Mendonça Filho: “I do believe that the film is built on a feeling of terror.”
Kleber Mendonça Filho: “I do believe that the film is built on a feeling of terror.”

AKT: One of them says “We’re going to die.” It’s so powerful because we know it’s the truth, before it happens. This is a scene of nightmares. This is something I think everybody at some point fantasized about or envisioned - that the moment before your death you know you’re going to die. Is there anything special in this moment for you?

JD: Yes, there is. It happened to me. When I got robbed at the exit of a bar in Recife in the late hours. The security guards of the bar started to shoot at the robbers and I was in the middle of the shooting and my vision became black. And I just understood that now my hour has come. But no bullets shot on me. But I know this feeling very well. It’s very strong for me also. It’s violence.

AKT: And more terror than horror? The entire film.

KMF: Yeah. I agree. Of course people seem to be very impressed by the very graphic scene in the cabin. When we get the first reaction from the people of Bacurau. And we thought that it should be graphic and surprising and startling in how graphic it was, is. So the word horror has come up a few times. But I do believe that the film is built on a feeling of terror. Particularly involving the siege, the attack, and the sense of destruction that comes from the outside.

The children of Bacurau
The children of Bacurau

AKT: There are so many elements to these outsiders that make them frightfully real. The athleisure wear, for instance.

KMF: The what?

AKT: Athleisure. The women, mostly women, who wear their workout clothes on the street. You see it here all the time. You combine that in your film with some military garb. Their plastic water bottles. The way they talk about body count.

KMF: Matter of fact.

AKT: They are saturated with video games. Saturated with adolescent suburban Hunger Game ideas.

JD: The gun culture.

AKT: The non-culture culture that pretends it understands something about death and about how the world works.

KMF: Yes.

AKT: And really they don’t understand a thing, which is so frightening.

Sônia Braga is Domingas in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau
Sônia Braga is Domingas in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau

KMF: I think it’s embodied most in the strongest fashion in Kate’s character, played by Alli Willow. She seems to be very gung-ho, military type and she’s probably just an amateur. But she has all the wear, the attitude. And then she gets shot and she becomes a helpless little girl. “My hand. My hand is gone.”

JD: And “Why are you doing this?” This is the most important question in the film. Why people are doing this.

KMF: It is repeated four times.

JD: And she doesn’t know how to answer. There is no reason for it, real reason.

KMF: There was a very interesting idea in that scene which nobody … which I guess hasn’t come up yet. I don’t think it worked because it’s very discreet. In the sound editing stage, Alli needed to come in to do some voices for the character. You know, when she’s on the ground, mortally wounded, she uses a digital translator. And then I suggested instead of having the google-woman or google-guy voice, let’s make it personalised. It’s her voice.

JD: Customised.

4K restoration of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man: The Final Cut will screen in Mapping Bacurau
4K restoration of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man: The Final Cut will screen in Mapping Bacurau

KMF: Customised, it’s her own voice. So they are saying “Why are you doing this?” in Portuguese. And her voice in English asks herself “Why are you doing this?” And her real self says “I don’t know.”

JD: And there’s another layer because she speaks in English, the response comes in Portuguese from Portugal. It’s a little bit different.

KMF: As if Kate did not know there’s a difference. It’s like French Québécois and French French. So there’s another layer, which only Portuguese people or Brazilians will understand. She thought that all Portuguese is the same.

JD: It’s the same idea when Udo Kier’s character [Michael] said to the outsiders about the Brazilian collaborators, “They don’t speak Brazilian here.” Brazilian, it’s not a name.

AKT: They speak Portuguese.

JD: These people don’t actually care about that.

Bacarau poster - opens at Film at Lincoln Center on March 6
Bacarau poster - opens at Film at Lincoln Center on March 6

Read what Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles had to say on the futuristic settings of Mad Max and Blade Runner and a Chinatown connection to the politics of water in Bacurau.

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.

Bacurau will open in the US on March 6 and in the UK on March 13.

Mapping Bacurau at Film at Lincoln Center will take place from March 13 through March 24.

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