Neon Bull (2015)

A man involved in Brazilian rodeo dreams of being in the fashion industry in Mascaro’s eye-opening, naturalistic work. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,062

Dir. Gabriel Mascaro
2015 | Brazil | Drama | 104 mins | 2.35:1 | Portuguese
R21 (passed clean) for sexual scenes and nudity

Cast: Juliano Cazarre, Maeve Jinkings, Josinaldo Alves
Plot: Iremar works at the rodeo in North East of Brazil. From his home, the truck used to transport the animals, he dreams of a future in the region’s booming clothing industry.
Awards: Won Orrizoni Award – Special Jury Prize (Venice)
International Sales: Memento Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Aspiration
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Snug in between August Winds (2014) and Divine Love (2019), Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull hit the critical bullseye after its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2015. 

A remarkable work of naturalism, Neon Bull is eye-opening filmmaking, capturing behind-the-scenes as a man, Iremar, toils day in day out at numerous Brazilian rodeos. He and a few others travel with a truckload of bulls from one paying location to another. 

But Neon Bull is not really about Iremar’s job, but his dream of breaking into the fashion industry, one that remains elusive.  One of his pastimes is doodling over porn magazines, drawing undergarments for naked ladies. 

Mixing raw documentary-style ‘neorealism’ with a sensual tone, Mascaro’s film is beautifully shot by DP Diego Garcia (who also shot for Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour in the same year), capturing on one end, the raw bestial energy of the rodeo scene, and on the other, frank sexuality in light and shadow. 

Ever seen a human masturbate a horse’s erect penis?  Check.  Ever seen a man and pregnant woman copulate in a long take that goes on for eternity?  Check.  (Mascaro would take long-take sex scenes even further in Divine Love.) 

The result is at times a bracingly original work that could only come from the new wave of post-2000s Brazilian filmmakers who are adept at making provocative character studies or social satires.  Mascaro, one of its key voices, is ever so demanding with his actors, but they almost always give him authentic performances to savour. 

In Neon Bull, we see glimpses of a changing and developing Brazil not so much in terms of landscape or geography, but through Iremar’s quiet aspiration.  In that sense, there is no stopping a man—or a country—to redesign and reimagine itself in a new economy of opportunities.

Grade: B+




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