This isolated-village mentality crawls through Bacurau, the bizarre genre-clasher from Brazilian filmmakers Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. The secluded town that titles the film is one of these nowhere places, filled with the heat and dust of a Sergio Leone Western, cut off from a suggestively dystopian world. And then there's the weird, psychotropic rituals that have a disturbing, Midsommar-like touch – starting with the funeral of a 94-year-old elder, whose coffin inexplicably fills with water.
Much of the peculiar pleasure of Bacurau is in its town and its folk: there’s a school, a chapel, a brothel, and even a history museum. We don’t have the pleasure of seeing inside many of them, lending an uncomfortable mystery to these buildings.
Teresa (Bárbara Colen) rides into town on a water truck on a dirt road, initially blocked by a spillage of coffins from an upturned vehicle. A bloody corpse lays disfigured nearby. We don’t know where she’s coming from, or where exactly she is. But, in retrospect, this feels like a narrative deception: she’s not the hero of the film. Nobody is.
The film proceeds with an enchanting, surreal domesticity – to the point where you give up guessing where the story goes and just enjoy the strange surprises. Yet there’s a patient evil pending, some harmful force creeping in from the outside world, first indicated by a flying saucer spinning near the town. Where are we? When are we? Even within the unpredictable context of Bacurau, this is a flummoxing turn of events.
Filho and Dornelles clearly love stretching their ambiguities and, for a while, the film shapes into a communal arthouse experience. But then, following their streak of surprises, they delve into genre territory. They ease into the classic plot of humble villagers seeking aid against a coming threat, essentially snatching from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
The enemies circling around Bacurau are, for the most part, trigger-happy Americans who just love to kill people – shooting and talking like politically motivated cartoons. Although it’s always entertaining and liberating to watch an arrogant superpower mocked in this way, it’s a wafer-thin satire. The final confrontation tenses with the innate silence of the town, louder than brutal gunfire, more sinister than streaks of blood. But it’s an unfulfilling conclusion: Filho and Dornelles never go full Kurosawa on the town.
All these elements work together nicely enough, with a clear excitement to confuse as much as raise adrenaline. But the film, as a whole, feels like a muddled dream. There’s a fun, improvised quality to the writing, but Bacurau doesn’t know where it wants to be.
Bacurau is available to stream on MUBI now.
20 Mar 20 – 20 Mar 21, STREAMING ON MUBI NOW
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