Strange things are afoot in the small Brazilian village of Bacurau. In addition to an ongoing shortage of water, food, and medicine, the town has seemingly vanished from the map and lost all contact with the outside. Not long after, people start going missing and strangers are spotted nearby. Clearly something sinister is afoot, but just how sinister doesn’t become apparent right away. Bacurau is one of those films that doesn’t mince words when it comes to social commentary. It frames the dire situation felt by many Brazilians in rural areas in the harshest of terms, sometimes going past satire and into realms extreme enough to make many audience members more than a little uncomfortable. While it may feel hyperbolic when taken literally, Bacurau’s story of ruthless predation ultimately cuts to the quick when it comes to the rapidly deteriorating relationship between first and third world countries.
Bacurau will make people uncomfortable, and that’s entirely by design.
We soon learn that the strange happenings in Bacurau are due to a group of white tourists who have come to the remote village for one purpose: to hunt people. Armed with drones and assault weapons, they’re presented as thrillseekers looking to get their kicks via wholesale slaughter. So yeah, not exactly subtle. This is a movie that deals, in no uncertain terms, with the predation of people of color by whites. The ‘hunters’ are depicted as largely monstrous, delighting in their seeming free reign to kill purely for the joy of it. “This is awesome,” one woman says breathlessly before unleashing a Tommygun on an innocent couple. Minutes later, she and her partner are furiously copulating in the grass. North Americans are framed as a destructive force, one that might only be possible to repel with further violence. To facilitate that violence, the would-be victims also have to turn to their own worst impulses and elements, recruiting local criminals just to have a fighting chance. Bacurau will make people uncomfortable, and that’s entirely by design.
It’s an angry movie, one filled with an urgency that belies its relatively sedate pace. With an atmosphere reminiscent of some Westerns, it takes its time in setting up the players. It also doesn’t really feel as though it really ratchets up the pace or tempo even when bullets begin flying. This last point may put some people off, especially if they’re anticipating a much more fiery climax than the film ultimately has. Things get bloody, no doubt about it, but this never quite turns into Assault on Precinct 13. No, this is more like the ending of a particularly bleak and unglamorized Western — with brief, brutal violence punctuated by long silences. This, of course, makes that violence hit all the harder.
Bacurau is the kind of bold, no-holds-barred movie we need more of.
If anything truly holds the film back, it’s the almost too-wide focus. The film has a rather expansive cast, and spends as much time on the trigger-happy tourists as the villagers they’ve come to slaughter. As a result, not many of the characters really stand out. It’s an ensemble piece, but having one or two core characters who we could really get a sense of would not have been amiss. As it is, nobody really has an arc, per se. Many of the characters seemingly primed for main character status vanish for the finale as well.
Bacurau is the kind of bold, no-holds-barred movie we need more of. It’s ruthless and angry and uncompromised, the kind of film born out of frustration with the state of the world. And hey, in 2019 we might need more of those.
Festival du Nouveau Cinema runs October 9 – 20. Visit the official website for more information.