Existing in a strange no-man’s-land between arthouse and ‘weird west’ (a sub-genre mashing-up the Western with sci-fi or horror), Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau opens on a shot that looks down on the earth from space, long before its audacious narrative shoots for the moon.
Named for the town in the Brazilian outback where the film’s events transpire, Bacurau follows the plight of a community in mourning for a 94-year-old woman who has recently passed away. It’s a curious film that defies categorisation, opening quietly before descending into a cacophony of cathartic bloodletting by the chaotic finale.
Following the wake, the villagers slowly realise that something is very wrong in the camp – their dwelling has been erased from satellite maps. The foreshadowing techniques of the traditional Western are used to build tension, as the old woman’s granddaughter Teresa (Bárbara Colen) is driven past an overturned truck transporting coffins. The signs of doom soon stack up, with horses fleeing from farms in the dead of night and people suddenly disappearing.
No one character steals the spotlight in Bacurau. Focusing on the dynamics of its tight-knit community, the genre-blurring drama paints a rich tapestry stuffed with oddballs –from the local DJ who projects YouTube videos onto a giant screen on the back of his truck to the alcoholic doctor played with remarkable steeliness by Sônia Braga, the lead in Filho’s previous film Aquarius. Expertly cast and always absorbing, Bacurau‘s colourful cast are brought to life via visual flourishes that add flare without feeling overly-stylised. While Filho’s cinematography grows more and more exaggerated as the story moves from quiet observation of town life to unhinged Spaghetti Western gore-fest.
Interestingly, the village of Bacurau doesn’t belong to any one time period. Somewhat steeped in tradition, its inhabitants are also not entirely resistant to modernity (the local DJ is a good example). Its hybrid nature also extends into the film’s inventive soundtrack, featuring everything from traditional folk songs to pulsing John Carpenter-esque synths. Perhaps the most illustrative moment of Bacurau‘s genre-splicing is when a naked man peacefully tending to his greenhouse is plunged into a scene of bloody vengeance. It’s bonkers in the best way – and if you like your movies as mad as possible, there’s plenty more where that came from.
- Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho
- Starring: Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira
- Release date: March 13 (available now on Mubi)