Fantasia 2021: King Car
The DNA of Christine and Holy Motors flows through the core of Renata Pinheiro’s dystopian carsploitation flick, King Car. Taking the initial premise of “What if cars could talk?” and perverting it in as many ways as possible, Pinheiro takes a fevered stab at our dependence on material goods and frail relationship with nature to unveil a provocative, messy critique on capitalism. While it doesn’t hit all its marks and often feels scattershot, King Car is a fascinating, eccentric, and bold piece of Brazilian cinema.
Uno (Luciano Pedro Jr) was born with the unique ability of being able to hear what cars are saying. This doesn’t manifest in Cars speaking aloud, but rather, he can understand the minutiae of the hum of the engine and instantly translates it. It comes in handy around his family’s taxi business, handling cars on a regular basis with his mechanic uncle, Zé (Matheus Nachtergaele). However, when Uno’s mother dies in a car accident, Uno swears to live a life without cars and focus on helping further study nature and what makes it tick.
Capitalism fails Uno’s father (Adélio Lima). Once his taxi business is threatened by a new law that makes it illegal to drive on the road with an automobile that’s fifteen years old or more, Uno is forced to find a new way to save his father’s livelihood. Through modernizing his Dad’s fleet of taxis (including naming one the titular King Car), Uno and Zé also patch in the ability for the cars to speak their mind. It takes no effort to guess what comes from this as those obsessed with the cars begin improving and improving upon the obsolete until they are more than just obsolete: they are superior.
From here is where Pinheiro’s vision starts spreading in multiple directions. Some of it is a bit tamer like the relationship between nature and industrialization, which is focused on a bit and finds some interesting ground to cover. However, there’s never really a clear thesis for the film. The weirder material starts out with the overt sexualization of cars and then struggles to convey a satisfying meaning as it refuses to reign itself in. There’s so much to unpack from almost every scene, but it never feels like it will come together in a cohesive whole, and redundancy kicks in on a regular basis.
Perhaps the most fascinating component of King Car is the relationship between Uno, Zé, and King Car itself. The most potent question is where do humans turn when they’re not wanted: a question that is easily answered with consumerism, especially when your life already revolves around automobiles since Zé is a mechanic living in a junkyard. Pinheiro sees the attention given to consumer goods in lieu of healthy relationships, and it manifests in King Car with the distance between Uno and Zé once Uno’s mother (Zé’s sister) dies. It’s an intriguing relationship brought to life with an eccentricity that ends up muddling the message a little bit.
Where King Car succeeds is in its aesthetic and willingness to go the distance in that regard. It’s a grimy, bleak-looking film that fuels the insanity of its plot. Seeing car junkies writhe around in the middle of a garage, surrounded by pristine, shiny vehicles, is the perfect encapsulation of what Pinheiro is trying to accomplish: how far away is the world from such a future? It doesn’t feel like too far of a reach, with the steady pacing of King Car and its unique vision only amplifying that fact.