Capsule Review – Bacurau (Sydney Film Fest 2019)

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With a clear love and affection for past genre films (with references to Brazilian films of the 60’s, Ozploitation films of the 70’s, The Most Dangerous Game and both Akira Kurosawa and John Carpenter films), Kleber Mendonca Filho (co-directed by Juliano Dornelles) manage to make Bacurau (the name of the town; translates as Nighthawk) an incredibly delirious experience for genre fans as well as a middle finger to imperialism and anything that is remotely right-wing.

In the first 30-40 minutes or so, the film starts normal enough (with a funeral) and the characters are introduced with efficiency, but something strange happens when an old man feeds villagers a hallucinogenic drug as they enter (it happens so quickly) that it foreshadows the second and third act, when it ventures into genre territory, with all the gore, the sadism, the sci-fi elements (?) and tension that one could ever want.

Sonia Braga (who was incredibly luminescent in Aquarius) returns in a supporting role as an acerbic and alcoholic doctor, alongside other colourfully bizarre supporting characters including a scumbag mayor who’s running for re-election is trying to bribe the locals with boxes of free prescription drugs (Gee, I wonder who that reminds me of?), a troubadour who has excellent timing, a sweet prostitute, her red-haired pimp, a reformed gangster who can’t adjust into civilian life and a DJ of sorts who projects YouTube videos on a mobile screen and live news reports and so on.

The film may be very blatant in its messages, the acting is quite inconsistent, the tone shifts are quite jarring, the switch in genres does not have the smoothest transition and the antagonists, in the form of American hunters led by genre stalwart Udo Kier (who gives an incredibly entertaining performance that satirizes his “evil German” villainous roles), are absolute caricatures. But in spite (or because) of those flaws, the film does achieve a surreal, psychedelic vibe that is quite fitting for its ambitions.

An off-beat genre pastiche of weird, wild westerns that also happens to be a political indictment of contemporary Brazil; from the director of Sydney Film Fest 2016, Aquarius? Yes, please!


 

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