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June 2, 2020

Film review: ‘Bacurau’ takes a wild turn toward violence — and political upheaval

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You don’t have to understand Brazilian politics to understand or enjoy “Bacurau,” the latest from the directing duo of Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho.

It starts out as if we’re going to get an insider’s cultural look at a rural Brazilian subculture in the fictional town of Bacurau, in the historically rebellious region of Pernambuco.  Bacurau resident Erivaldo (Rubens Santos) is driving a battered tanker truck full of water to his hometown because the government has dammed the river upstream. Erivaldo is also bringing home Teresa (Barbara Colen), who will be attending the funeral for the town matriarch, Carmelita.

And for the first 30 minutes or so, we meet the characters of the town, including Domingas (Sonia Braga), an alcoholic rival of Carmelita. We also meet the district’s political henchman, Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), who is apparently the one who has dammed the river. He comes to town only occasionally, mostly to deliver food and drugs that he thinks will make the restless natives more manageable.

As the town mourns Carmelita, unusual things start to happen. A schoolteacher notices that the town has disappeared from digital maps. And a revolutionary who has returned to town for the funeral begins to wonder if something nefarious is afoot. His name Is Pacote (Thomas Aquino), who is so notorious that his top 10 assassinations have been turned into a YouTube video.

Worrisome signs continue when a team of American mercenaries set up operations near the town. They’re led by the German actor Udo Kier, and when you see him, you know that these folks are up to no good.

As it turns out, that’s an understatement. And the movie quickly moves into the territory mined so shockingly by Jordan Peele in 2017’s thought-provoking horror/comedy “Get Out.”

Austin Film Society Cinema will begin virtual screenings with "Bacurau" the Cannes award-winning thriller from Brazil, starring Udo Kier and Sônia Braga.
“Bacurau,” the Cannes award-winning surreal thriller from Brazil, starring Udo Kier and Sônia Braga, is streaming via Austin Film Society.

“Bacarau” is not for the squeamish. It’s a rock-em, sock-em tale of gun battles and beheadings. There’s lots of nudity, too. And you’ve probably never seen an old nude man and nude overweight woman wielding shotguns against gringos, but “Bacarau” has that — and lots more.

The movie has been a success in Brazil, where folks apparently can relate to its message of rising up against repression. It was also a success at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it was selected for the main competition. It went home with the Jury Prize, which is basically third place. (The Palme d’Or, or first prize, went to “Parasite,” as you probably know.)

The movie was picked up for distribution in the United States by Kino Lorber. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is streaming on selected theater sites across the nation.

In Austin, it’s at the Austin Film Society’s austinfilm.org. The revenue from the streaming in Austin will be shared by the distributor and the Austin Film Society, which has a long history of bringing the best of world cinema to Central Texas.

‘Bacurau’ streams at AFS through May 7. It’s well worth your time.

‘Bacurau’
Directed by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho
Running time: 131 minutes
Not rated

 

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin Americaan-Statesman.

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