Release Date: March 20, 2020
Running Time: 131 minutes
Given this particular moment in time, when most of us are hidden away in self-quarantine, the Brazilian genre-defying Bacurau astute use of isolation to tell its politically driven cautionary tale makes for an even more intensely unsettling experience. Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, and set in a near-future that is recognizable to all, Bacurau whisks us to the titular village (Nighthawk in English) in the Brazilian sertão that is under siege for reasons unknown. A water shortage, seemingly the result of a regional power struggle, is followed by the death of the village matriarch. Next comes the village’s erasure from all maps. Days later, an armed group of Americans and Europeans—led by the incomparable Udo Kier and former Austin-based actors Jonny Mars and Chris Doubek—begin to plot an attack on the village. Explanations in Bacurauare come to hard by, which allow Filho and Dornelles to create an air of mystery that hangs heavy over the often violent proceedings. They keep us as much in the dark as the villagers who seek to preserve their way of life. Also, Bacurau prompts some pertinent questions about the villagers and what, if at all, a small fraction of their number may have done to bring this reign of terror down upon them all. Not that Filho and Dornelles ever try to forcibly turn us against the villagers, whose residents include a doctor played with searing authority by Sônia Braga. This is their home and it is worth protecting, Filho and Dornelles tell us time and time again. The lesson to be taken away from Bacurau during these trying times is that as alone as we, if we unite as a whole for as long as is needed, we stand a better chance of defeating a common enemy of unknown origin. Bacurauprojects a true sense of community through the actions of the villagers as both individuals and as a group. The mounting isolation they feel collectively informs every moment of Bacurau, most notably their campaign to thwart the impending extinction-level event. Still, Filho and Dornelles also are less interested in telling a specific story about the collision of two distinct opposing political forces against each other—as Craig Zobel did recently with his “red state vs. blue state” satire The Hunt—than they examining an assault on a rural community that continues to resists the destructive behavior and special interests of outside bureaucratic and commercial entities, both domestic and international. The other difference between Bacurau and The Hunt, which both treat the killing of people as sport, is that the former holds firm to its sociopolitical agenda and remains committed taking a specific side in this fight for survival. Despite the serious threat to the village, Filho and Dornelles find it necessary to bring some dark, subtle humor to Bacurau to offset the growing tension. That the villagers constantly pop pills someAlejandro Jodorowsky-inspired absurdism to Bacurau. Much of Bacurau’s acerbic wit in the second half is generated by the dynamic that exists between the hired guns. Whatever their job is, nothing is going to stop them from enjoying killing the villagers, and the competition this generates results in some uneasy laughs. But things can often turn nasty quickly, such as when Kier dresses down Mars for calling him a Nazi. “So much violence,”a notably restrained but nevertheless unnerving Keir notes toward the end of Bacurau, and this is far from a joke. Filho and Dornelles channel everyone from Sam Peckinpah to Clint Eastwood to Robert Rodriguez during the bloody showdown between villagers and interlopers. The violence late in Bacurau is inevitable but it never detracts from Filho and Dornelles’ concerns about the social and environmental harm against small communities that is done in the name of progress. “A man is judged by the evil he does, not the good,” a villager remarks before the battle ensues. In the village of Bacurau, as it is often in life, the desperate act of survival knows no good and know no evil.
Note: The Austin Film Society is presenting a virtual screening of Bacurau through April 2 at https://kinonow.com/bacurau-austin-film-society/
Aired: Feb. 13, 2020