“Bacurau”: Film Review

Sassy, lethal, and disconcerting, “Bacurau” brings a powerfully surreal twist to the story of Brazil’s cinema of resistance. 

Some time in the near future, a village in the hinterlands of the Brazilian Nordeste – the sertão – suddenly disappears off the map in the most literal way. One minute Bacurau is instantly locatable online, the next minute… nothing. To the rest of the world, the village and its residents no longer exist.

This is not a coincidence. The water supply has also been cut. Trucks bringing water in are shot at. The villagers, a disparate and eccentric group of individuals who at first sight seem at odds with each other, are at the mercy of a corrupt politician with very dark designs and the strangest of associates, bloodthirsty mercenaries with the oddest passion. These mercenaries are led by the ever-reliable –as the most iconic of demented movie baddies – Udo Kier. Awful things happen while a small flying saucer drones about, observing and ambushing hapless country folk.

“Bacurau” takes off into a flight of fantasy where sci-fi and earthy everyday realism collide. The film’s directors, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, started writing the film a good decade before its release and have remarked on how reality was fast catching up and overtaking what had originally been an imaginary dystopian future. That future is now the present in too many ways.

Filmed with 1970s American Panavision C-series anamorphic prime lenses – for Mendonça Filho and Dornelles this was reminiscent of American Westerns and transformed the optics of familiar Nordeste landscapes – “Bacurau” also feels like a Brazilian 21st Century riff on Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”. It is anchored in similar themes – themes that were urgent then and increasingly urgent now, with land, water, and human rights under threat.

Some have classified Bacurau as a Weird Western but given the film’s sensibility, authenticity, clarity, and overt sense of political denunciation, such a classification – subsuming such a lucid film into that genre – is too reductive. “Bacurau” is a very direct and upfront film, and does not allow genre conventions to blunt its message.

Bacurau’s proud and fierce inhabitants – as the directors say, a place where everyone is poor but no one is to be pitied – eventually enlist their very own Samurai for a bloody, comical and exhilarating finale: Lunga (Silvero Pereira). He is a redoubtable bandit in the Brazilian ‘cangaço’ tradition, an outlaw with a social conscience, and a charismatic man who is also, at times and in some ways, a ‘she’.

It turns out that the villagers are pretty capable Samurais in their own right, and with unexpected resources. Led by the ever-magnificent Sônia Braga, here in the role of village medic, matriarch and leader, Bacurau’s arsenal outmatches that of the farmers in Kurosawa’s original. The tale of the epic battle between Braga’s villagers and Udo Kier’s mercenaries will become in another glorious chapter in the mythical history of the sertão.

“Bacurau” won the Jury Prize at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival in 2019.

Directed and written by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
Director of Photography Pedro Sotero
With Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira and Karine Teles.

Interested in other Cannes Film Festival 2019 reviews? We have plenty.  Try Parasite, Give Me Liberty, The Lighthouse, and many more here.