BACURAU (2019) is an unusual film for a festival prize winning effort. It is not the contemplative art-house follow-up expected from director Kleber Mendonça Filho, who previously made 2016’s outstandingly precise Aquarius. It is also not a radical, forward-thinking, or ground-breaking film. Instead BACURAU is a marvelous exploitation film throwback with a cerebral and relevant veneer.
Kleber Mendonça Filho co-directed BACURAU with Juliano Dornelles, whom he was worked with before. The duo’s efforts create a film torn between being a classic exploitation flick and one of deeper art-house significance. At its best, BACURAU deliriously veers from one to the other, crisscrossing between bursts of horrific violence and slow-paced interludes during the final act. The casting of the Udo Kier as a lead villain perfectly sums up this dichotomy, as his own spectacular career travels the philosophical musings of Von Trier to the splatterfests of Argento.
BACURAU borrows from older films, using long opening credits and archaic screen wipes. There are UFOs, outdated guns, and a Battle Royale type premise. The film excels by using an arbitrary plot setup to investigate the social fabric of Brazil. Here, humans hunting humans is played as antithetical to the community spirit of the hunted.
Set in the near future, BACURAU presents a Brazil with divisions. The rural and urban worlds are at conflict when characters meet. Made during a time of volatile Brazilian politics, one wonders how explicit BACURAU plays as a condemnation of recent events. Here the politicians sell out their people to rich Westerners, literally. A liberal village, a home of misfits, queers, and outsiders, is wiped off the map. When BACURAU pushes itself to almost depicting a bloody revolution against foreign intervention and homegrown corruption, it appears a tragic yet inspiring win for the protagonists.
BACURAU seems a satire without laughs at first, advancing slowly and earnestly. Once the synth score blares however and more comedy drips in, the second half leans heavily into a literal savagery that matches the cutthroat depiction of Brazilian politicians. BACURAU is a nasty and gory film, fulfilling the promise set by the early scenes on a road scattered with coffins. BACURAU is just one long build-up of tension that has the premise of a Jodorowsky style weird western. The bacurau bird is said to only come out at night to hunt. Similarly, this satirical BACURAU grimly hunts for prey in a time of political darkness.