Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Creates a unique and eerily grounded suspense that transcends genre." | Photo: © 2019 Photo Cinemascópio

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.

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau is breathtaking from the start with Gal Costa singing Não Identificado by Caetano Veloso. We soon meet Sônia Braga, who plays the town’s doctor. She is devastated and drunk during a funeral which allows us to get a first glimpse at the lay of the land. Something is terribly wrong here. The phone reception is bad.

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In Polanski Chinatown fashion, the water supply is cut off for the area, also mirroring the very real water shortage in the Northeast of Brazil. Horses from the farm nearby run loose through the village one night. A local politician dumps a pile of books, as if it were a gift of garbage, made to be set on fire (François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 may come to mind), rather than read.

John Carpenter’s Starman was an inspiration for the directors, whose Bacurau, shot by Pedro Sotero (Aquarius, Neighboring Sounds), edited by Eduardo Serrano (Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull, Divine Love), and with costumes by Rita Azevedo creates a unique and eerily grounded suspense that transcends genre.

The fact that the film takes place “a few years in the future,” Kleber called, when I spoke with him during the 57th New York Film Festival, “a very cheap special effect.” He 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.

When a couple on motorcycles, dressed in garish outfits and pretending to be tourists, arrives in Bacurau, we know that paranoia is not what the townsfolk suffer from. Udo Kier plays the leader of a second group of people we encounter eventually. These men and women wearing athleasure gear and paramilitary paraphernalia, raised on a steady diet of video games are the 21st century hunters in search of fear. Yes, there is a lot of violence in this movie, but like the hovering drone which in such a silly way masked itself as a UFO, it does not come across as gratuitous but rather playfully thoughtful.

For centuries, the best tales of magic were told and retold because of their combination of the supernatural with our deepest darkest fears, a utopian setting with very real dilemmas, and a hopeful ending that speaks to our sense of justice. Bacurau, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize (shared with Ladj Ly's Les Misérables) harbours that heritage.

In celebration of the theatrical release of Bacurau in New York, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles will present Mapping Bacurau at Film at Lincoln Center from March 13 through March 24.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2020
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Bacurau packshot
Villagers sold as human prey defend themselves from hunters using a psychotropic drug.

Director: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

Writer: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

Starring: Udo Kier, Sônia Braga, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek, Bárbara Colen, Alli Willow, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Márcio Fecher, Val Junior, Karine Teles, Suzy Lopes, Brian Townes, Antonio Saboia

Year: 2019

Runtime: 132 minutes

Country: Brazil

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