A delicious cocktail of Cinema Novo, Tarantino and De Palma, Bacurau is impossible to neatly categorise. 50% rural drama, 50% revenge western and 100% sociopolitical critique, this genre-bending work comes from Brazilian co-directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho, the mastermind who gifted us the five-star character study Aquarius three years ago.
Requiring a fair amount of patience, Bacurau‘s first half unfolds slowly, building the world of the fictional small town that the film takes its title from. Bacurau isn’t a real place, nor is it even acknowledged within the world of the film. Its few locals live in isolation, disturbed by a series of mysterious killings that are linked by the victims going outside the town to pick up supplies at the time of their murder.
Around the hour mark, Udo Kier enters the picture as Michael, the leader of a western mercenary group whose imperialist interest is a clear allegory of Brazil’s history, from colonialism to the mass surveillance programme that exacerbated US-Brazil relations. The latter is pointedly depicted with the use of UFOs as spying devices. Michael views the community of Bacurau as “savages”, and his goons relish the body count. After a certain line-crossing moment, Bacurau transmogrifies into a Seven Samurai-esque scenario of a community preparing to fight back against their invaders.
The cartoonishly brutal scenes of vengeance that follow warrant comparisons to Tarantino, or at least from where the cinephilic auteur would have taken his inspiration. The shootout sequences are wonderfully creative and emotionally satisfying. The bullets carry the entire weight of Filho’s political anger, as each of the mercenaries are asked “Why are you doing this?” by Bacurau’s residents whenever they come face to face. The De Palma-esque visual aesthetic of Aquarius – split diopters, tracking shots, the beauty of a wide screen – works even better here with the provision of genre thrills. Whilst Bacurau’s formalism is evidence of disparate cinematic inspirations, its bricolage of elements form into something original and very special.
Bacurau is released on demand on Mubi and Amazon Prime on 18th April 2020.
Watch the trailer for Bacurau here: