CANNES FESTIVAL – Panoramic “Bacurau,” a revenge Western with pointed anti-American sentiment

“Bacurau” has been one of the richest cinematic experiences I’ve seen in a while, producing enormous feeling. And while the writing is slightly disheveled, this panoramic film is brimming with imagery of folklore, capoeira, community life and historical legacy. It’s a celebration of Brazilian sertao (outback) living, told from the viewpoints of several different people but not without its acidic share of tragedy. The film also stands as an indictment of the local political class and, more curiously, Americans, who are depicted as jingoistic barbarians.

The narrative of “Bacurau,” part-revenge Western, part-dark fairytale and part-action movie, is loosely organized around several threads: Teresa (the jaw-droppingly beautiful Barbara Colen) returns to her village of Bacurau, in the Brazilian outback, with considerable quantities of medication (vaccines, etc). Mysterious things begin occurring shortly after, once the town’s matriarch is put into the ground. Bacurau no longer appears on Google maps, and there’s no more cellular coverage. A politician comes to the village in the hope of garnering support for his election only to be met with scorn and derision. A rag-tag gang of American mercenaries on a secret mission have set up shop outside of the village and are preparing their assault. Much intrigue ensues.


Barbara Colen as ‘Teresa’

Michael (played by Udo Kier, “Melancholia,” “Soul Kitchen”) and the Americans under his command are there to kill as many of the locals as possible. Point blank. Who would bankroll such an improbable mission ? That is never explained. But it doesn’t matter. Evidently, there was an axe to grind on the part of the filmmakers. You can ask just about anyone in the world about America and they will have a bone to pick with it. It’s just that here, co-directors Kleber Medonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles go about it in a crude and simplistic manner. Case in point: after two of the renegades, a man and a woman, shoot and kill some locals, the woman shouts at her colleague, “DO YOU WANT TO FUCK?” The act of successful killing apparently so mind-blowing that people, Americans, immediately fornicate afterward.

Was the anti-American strand necessary to the story? I’ve always believed that this kind of sentiment, prevalent just about everywhere outside the U.S., it seems, is a result of crass ignorance, or misguided political claims. But this unlikely political swipe is the directors’ weak trait, it lessens the film, it kills the art.

On the plus side, in “Bacurao” the townspeople have strong ties to each other (sometimes I felt like they made one, collective warm body). They dance and sing together and fight corrupt politicians (like the one mentionned earlier), conglomerates and the aforementioned horny American killing machines.
This film stars Sonia Braga, the grande dame of Brasilian cinema. She appeared in Mendonca’s previous film “Aquarius,” (“Aquarius” was part of the 2016 Cannes Festival slate).

I won’t be adding this film to my list of my favorite Brazilian films (among which I count “Pixote,” “Amarela Mango” and “Cheiro do ralo”) but, this ensemble film left me with a fuller stomach than when I walked into the theater this morning.

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