The bombastic Brazilian film Bacurau is a political sci-fi horror satire action exploitation Western. A plot synopsis would not come anywhere close to capturing its out-there-ness. When I first watched the film in Cannes in 2019, where it won a Special Jury Prize, I appreciated sitting next to an insightful Brazilian film critic who could explain much of its cultural context, as filmmakers Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho have written and directed a very Brazilian film, one that prophetically speaks into our current political climate. Comparisons to Akira Kurosawa and John Carpenter are apt, and it certainly has exploitation and Spaghetti Western vibes. But Bacurau is ultimately a film of resistance, and thus resists any such definitional boundaries or attempts to find generic correlations. Visceral and incendiary, Bacurau is a political punch to the gut and a mental machete to the head.
The film follows Teresa (Bárbara Colen), a young woman who comes home to her village of Bacurau in Brazil’s backcountry for her grandmother’s funeral. Already far from modern civilization, the village appears to be essentially abandoned by the government to fend for its own survival. There’s something mysterious afoot, as if a large power or principality were itself a danger to the village population. As the threats to Bacurau slowly become more apparent and the danger more urgent, the villagers must band together to protect themselves and overcome whatever bloody menace might come their way. And as indicated by the tattered and stained doctor’s coat worn by Domingas (Sônia Braga), there will be blood.
The obvious allegorical dynamic of Bacurau may be off-putting to those less inclined towards didacticism, while a lack of Brazilian political history could also leave audiences wondering just what the allegory is trying to say. (The Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary The Edge of Democracy from filmmaker Petra Costa is a great primer on Brazilian politics, and would make for a fascinating double bill with Bacurau.) Even with these possible frustrations, Bacurau is—and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a hyper-violent exploitation film—a whole lotta fun. The action is intense, over-the-top, and grotesque. Both the characters and the color palette are vibrant and lush, and the script keeps us on our toes with enough WTF moments to keep our interest piqued. Filho and Dornelles have crafted something which feels deeply personal even as it speaks into their country’s political culture. The ideas at the core of Bacurau are quite intellectual and abstract, but Filho and Dornelles have made them incarnate and affecting—you feel the arguments in your guts more than think about them in your head, even as your head is left spinning by the mysterious madness in front of you.
Ultimately, I think Bacurau serves as a provocative cinematic interpretation of the words of James 5: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” Indeed, the day of slaughter has arrived in the village of Bacurau. Let the wailing and reaping begin.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2762506/