Bacurau (4 stars)

Bacurau

LFF 2019: Stylish and socially conscious Brazilian showstopper that resists definition

Part dusty western, part sharp social commentary, part frenetic fever dream, this year's Cannes Jury Prize winner Bacurau is an astonishing piece of cinema, both in terms of its ideas and its craft. While its narrative may be wilfully elusive at times, writer-directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho preferring to suggest rather than tell, the film has a clear message, and makes its points with confidence and style.

Set 'a few years from now', it all begins innocuously enough, as we follow a woman returning to her home village of Bacurau, in the middle of the Brazilian outback, for her grandmother's funeral. This is a tight-knit community which looks after its own, and so when bizarre events start to occur – electricity being cut off, strange drones in the sky, the town literally disappearing from the map – the locals immediately band together in defence. To discuss the plot in any more detail would be to dilute Bacurau's impact; this is a film that should be allowed to unfold unhindered upon its audience.

Much like the year's other standout South American film Monos, shot in neighbouring Colombia, Bacurau's power lies in its hypnotic visual identity. Cinematographer Pedro Sotero and editor Eduardo Serrano work in harmony, capturing both the expanse and anonymity of the isolated landscape – which, it's suggested, hides multiple sins – and lingering on minutiae: beads of sweat, empty streets, seemingly innocent exchanges that seethe with tension and foreboding. A discordant, writhing score adds to the sense that, in Bacurau, nothing is as it seems.

When, at the midway point, the focus drifts outside of the village, Bacurau does suffer slightly from a dip in energy and some rather (and possibly deliberate) pantomime-esque performances from the English-speaking contingent of its cast. But later, as the pace ratchets up and simmering frustrations boil over into bloody violence, the directors keep a firm hand on proceedings, knowing when to pull back and when to allow their characters to finally unleash the full force of their anger.

Influences may be obvious – from the South American surrealism of Alejandro Jodorowsky, to the horror tropes of John Carpenter et al – but Dornelles (a former production designer) and Filho (who directed sensitive Brazilian social drama Aquarius) have made something that's ultimately their own. There are elements of the supernatural, of the otherworldly, of the monstrously human at play here but, at its core, this is a story of David versus Goliath corruption, of class warfare at its most extreme; it's a damning indictment of the injustices that run rife in modern Brazil, and the world at large.

Screening on Fri 4 and Sat 5 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. General release TBC.

Bacurau

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • Brazil / France
  • 2h 11min
  • Directed by: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho
  • Cast: Barbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira

When Teresa (Colen) returns to her home village of Bacurau in the Brazilian outback, for her grandmother’s funeral, weird things start to happen. Sometimes elusive but nevertheless astonishing, with simmering frustrations boiling over into violence, it’s a stylish and confident indictment of the injustices running rife in…

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