Bacurau (2019)

A great and promising film when it is in Portuguese, but suffers several tonal missteps when English takes over in this strange work about politics, class and violence.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Mendonca Filho
2019 | Brazil | Drama/Mystery | 131 mins | 2.39:1 | Portuguese & English
M18 (passed clean) for violence and sexual scenes

Cast: Barbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira
Plot: After the death of her grandmother, Teresa comes home to her matriarchal village in a near-future Brazil to find a succession of sinister events that mobilizes all of its residents.
Awards: Won Jury Prize (Cannes)
International Sales: SBS Intl

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Dark
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Singapore International Film Festival 2019
Spoilers: No

Bacurau is one of those films that could have been consistently masterful.  Alas, this Brazilian work co-directed by Kleber Medonca Filho (of Aquarius, 2016) and Juliano Dornelles manages to press the self-destruct button and partly crumble along the way. 

Yet inexplicably, as a whole, Bacurau is not that terrible a film, perhaps because its strangeness, and the filmmakers’ penchant for sensational violence and unorthodox storytelling make it enticing enough to be watchable. 

‘Bacurau’ is the name of a rural village that is isolated from civilisation, and seemingly undetectable on GPS.  Following the arrival of a crafty politician, the townsfolks begin to experience one sinister event after another. 

Bacurau is the Portuguese name for nightjar, an iconic bird with nocturnal habits, which is very common in Southeast Brazil.

Operating loosely like a Western, and shot in widescreen format that takes pains to show us the desolate landscape, Bacurau finds the villagers trying to protect themselves from brutal outside forces literally trying to wipe them off the map. 

Unfortunately, this depiction of ‘outside force’  is also where the film suffers several tonal missteps.  Bacurau is a great and promising film when it is in Portuguese, but when it comes to its cringe-worthy English-language parts, the scripting and casting are uniformly weak. 

It is quite a waste because the film has everything going for it to become an entertaining if uncompromising work about politics, class and violence, especially as a cautionary tale against the relentless exploitation of the underprivileged by those who wield power. 

Those without power find themselves reinventing for the new age—by going back to the basics of raw savagery.

Grade: B-



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