A bold critic of Brazilian politics, police brutality, and white supremacy, Bacurau – directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles and written by Mendonça – is a brutal and vibrant take on the western genre.
In a remote village in the Brazilian sertão (the “backcountry”), Teresa (Barbara Cohen) is returning along a dusty country road for her grandmother’s – and Bacurau’s matriarch’s – funeral, when she and Pacote (Thomas Aquino) come across a car accident. A man’s body lays spread on the gravel, while the contents of the truck involved are scattered around like macabre traffic cones; the truck was carrying a large number of coffins to an unknown location. After the funeral, Teresa and the residents of Bacurau begin to witness the strange occurrences and sudden mysterious deaths that creep around the outskirts of town.
Mendonça’s script is unabashedly political from the beginning. Water is a commodity that has been stripped from Bacurau and is instead ferrying into the village in tankers. Meanwhile Tony Jr. (a local politician attempting to win re-election) appears into town with a fanfare of loudspeakers, bringing gifts of food and books that are out of date and moulding away. Without giving away too much plot, themes of white supremacy, racism, and echos of police brutality explode on the screen – but unlike real life, the perpetrators quickly meet a violent resistance.
It is the haunting funeral scene in the first act that indicates this is not simply a portrayal of a village; there is in fact something deeper, more primal, almost supernatural that is at the heart of this film. The village congregate in front of the coffin, and together as one they start to sing as the procession moves through the houses towards the town’s small cemetery. The song is unidentifiable, but the harmonies capture a sense of collective mourning, of pain and loss that is hard to shake.
The film itself embraces the idea of the community film – although we are introduced to Teresa as the initial character, throughout the narrative the perspective switches to a number of different characters. From Domingas (Sônia Braga) the town’s doctor with an alcohol problem and dark sense of humour, to Pacote and his mysterious past, and to Michael (Udo Kier), leader of a group of Western outsiders who have travelled to the countryside for something much more sinister than sightseeing. However, this does mean that the narrative can become slightly scattered or unexplained in moments.
It is the images of Bacurau that linger in the mind: a line of coffins in front of a small village church, the blood stained clothes of a child hanging from a washing line like a warning shot, a drone in the shape of a low-budget UFO appearing suddenly and almost comically in the sky.
Overall, however, it is the strength and power of community against a larger entity that matter in the end. A small village that disappears off maps without a trace, but whose people can take on politicians and dangerous fanatics with barely a second of hesitation. Bacurau is a wonderfully weird, violent, and interesting reinvention of the Western in a near-future that doesn’t seem all too different from our own.
by Rose Dymock