The film Bacurau opens with the fictional town its named after being erased from the map, literally. In an early scene, Plinio (Wilson Rabelo) asks his students to find Bacurau on Google Maps, but the section where it is is blank. His students are understandably concerned, and he reassures them, “Bacurau has always been on the map.”
The town is facing erasure in the physical world as well as the digital one. The mayor, Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), lives elsewhere and has cut off the village’s water supply. He’s seeking reelection, and is attempting to leverage the water for votes. The road into the town is closed to anyone else, but he brings a literal truck full of books when he visits. Before his goons dump them on the steps of the library, he commands the goons to, “Film it.” Along with the books, Tony Jr. also brought food past its expiration date and addictive medicine with dubious benefits. Bacurau is a chilling look at the way fascist regimes abuse the poorest of their people before the mercenaries arrive.
At its core, Bacurau is a battle between the people of the village and a team of mercenaries hired under mysterious circumstances to kill them. The mercenaries, led by Michael (played by the always great Udo Kier), are an all white kill squad who only use antiquated firearms to make the fight a challenge. Of course, the self-imposed restriction only applies to weapons that kill. Along with tommy guns and six shooters, they use a drone designed to look like a flying saucer and a cell-phone jammer.
Bacurau is at its strongest during those moments. There’s another particularly incisive moment, when after Josh murders a child, Jerry calls him out, insisting that they don’t kill children. Josh defends himself, saying the boy was armed. Jerry counters, “That little boy had a flashlight” and Josh says, “Which I thought was a gun.” The scene closely mirrors the police killing of Tamir Rice in 2014. The moment is great, because as co-director and co-writer Juliano Dornelles says in an interview with Film at Lincoln Center included with the film in this release, “When you make a genre film using the real problems of society, it’s the right way to do a genre film.”
In this genre film, the mercenaries aren’t expecting a fight from the people, but the people aren’t willing to be wiped out. Led by “Trigger King” Pacote (Thomas Aquino), Plinio, his American cousin Teresa (Bárbara Colen), Dr. Domingas (Sônia Braga), and a rebel living in the hills, Lunga (Silvero Pereira), the people fight back. Rather than having a main character, the village is a true ensemble.
As sharp as the commentary co-directors and co-writers Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho offer is, Bacurau isn’t as exciting as it could be. The ending especially feels anticlimactic. Everything building up to it is great, but once it arrives there’s very little struggle. In order for a fight to be exciting, both sides need a chance to win. In this film, it never feels like the losers have a chance. What should be exciting feels rote, leaving audiences waiting for an expected outcome rather than wondering who will win.
It’s a small quibble in what is a strong film. Bacurau’s other major achievement is the way it welds modern technology into a Western, where for once the native people are portrayed with humanity. Fihlo puts it better in another interview included with this edition: “[the people] would not be simple. They would be great.”
That clash of the modern world and cowboy aesthetic is present throughout the film, but maybe nowhere more than the music. Some of it is acoustic guitar playing, much of it by one of the villagers. The other music is a heavy synth, part of the soundtrack rather than the world of the film.
Bacurau is a big f*** you to colonialism, showing what it looks like today and then having its characters violently fight against it. It’s must watch.
This Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release is jam-packed with nearly two hours of special features. There’s the excellent, “Bacurau on the Map, a making-of” by co-director and co-writer Kleber Mendonça Filho, a deleted scene, two interviews with the director (one that features the incomparably charismatic Sônia Braga), and the other co-director and co-writer Juliano Dornelles’ short film, “Mens sana in corpore sano.” In addition to the digital content, Bacurau also includes the booklet “Bacurau: The Science of Fiction” by Fábio Andrade. If you’ve already seen the film, the bonus features make this edition an excellent purchase.
Wicked Rating – 8/10
Directors: Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho
Writers: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
Stars: Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Thardelly Lima, Rubens Santos, Wilson Rabelo, Luciana Souza, Karine Teles, Antonio Saboia, Carlos Francisco
Release Date: July 14, 2020 (Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital)
Studio/Production: CompanyAncine, Arte France Cinéma, CNC Aide aux cinémas du monde – Institut Français, CinemaScópio Produções, Globo Filmes, Globosat / Telecine, SBS Films
Language: Portuguese, English
Runtime: 131 minutes