Bacurau

Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles, 2019

Rating:

Bacurau begins with an outer space opening shot, encompassing the stars of the galaxy before we are drawn towards the country of Brazil, before being thrust down into the small village of Bacurau where the film’s story takes place, a “few years from now”. It is a move that seems startling and somewhat unconventional, setting the stall for what is to come from a film that confidently mixes various genre tropes and storytelling conventions to create a unique vibrant story truly existing in a world of its own.

The plot begins by introducing us to the village’s plight. They’ve been cut off from the water supply and face constant confrontation with a mayor who neglects their needs and focusses only on his own image. As its opening shots suggest, Bacurau is a film that is both intimate and universal in its scope. The story of a village coming together to defend against external threats is one that has a deep history in cinema, with Bacurau paying homage to films like Seven Samurai with through both its construction of characters and use of editing techniques such as using Kurosawa’s famous wipe fade, later utilised by George Lucas in Star Wars.

Not content with simply retelling a traditional revenge tale that we have seen before, Bacurau blends the old with the new. Culture and tradition (a large portion of the film focusses on the town’s only attraction, its museum) meet technology and entertainment, with the external threat consisting of a group of Americans who want to come in and murder the villagers in what seems like a real-life video game.

In rooting its story in the plight of a remote Brazilian village, the film draws attention to the ongoing political turmoil in Brazil and the threat that indigenous people and natural resources face under their newly elected leader Jair Bolsonaro. Bacurau’s enemies have zero regard for human life, seeing the village as disposable. The film warns against the erosion of culture and the exploitation of natural resources, calling on community spirit and cooperation to find solutions.

Like the cinematic tales of cooperation it draws from, Bacurau builds itself up towards its final act of confrontation where the threat must finally be faced by the villagers. Instead of conforming to convention, the film sees this traditional arc as an opportunity to showcase its inventiveness further with an ending that chucks almost everything in the mix, combining fantasy and sci-fi elements with violence and humour.

Bacurau is a film that revels in its wackiness, creating a memorable visual experience that brings to life its story with great clarity. Much like Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite, it succeeds as both a tale of immediate revenge and also as a warning signal with concern over a much greater threat to lives and our planet.

Written by Daniel Metcalf

Daniel Metcalf