The beginning of the New Year marks the time for resolutions, reflection, and… “Best of 2020” movie lists! One title that’s popping up a lot, even on Barak Obama’s annual roundup of personal favorites, is the Brazilian film, Bacurau. Bacurau is a unique and multifaceted work that starts off as a drama, slowly morphs into a mystery, and finally settles into a gripping cat and mouse thriller. The less known about the plot, the more rewarding the viewing experience, so I’m going to dance around major spoilers while touching on just a few of Bacurau’s many intriguing aspects in hopes that this will whet your appetite enough to seek out Bacurau for yourself.
Bacurau is the name of a small, isolated, fictional town in Brazil. The first shot evokes memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a god’s-eye view of Earth. The shadow of nightfall creeping across the globe as a mysterious satellite drifts into view is the first of a series of ominous signs. That image dissolves to an aerial shot of a tanker truck weaving around potholes on a road in the middle of nowhere. When the truck makes a quick stop at a steep bluff, a warning shot is fired by one of several thugs standing guard over a makeshift dam on the river far below. Meanwhile, a video feed in the cab of the truck displays a “Wanted” poster for a dangerous man named Lunga. And a foreboding accident involving a motorcyclist and a pickup truck has left a bunch of empty caskets strewn across the road. The tanker truck smashes through several of them, capturing the essence of the story that’s about to unfold: the repudiation of dark forces, and even death itself. All of this happens in the opening minutes, and every one of these seemingly disparate elements comes back into play again later.
A young woman named Teresa accompanies the truck driver. Teresa is returning to Bacurau to attend the funeral of the town’s matriarch. The truck is transporting much needed water, filled upstream from where the armed henchmen dammed the river. After it safely arrives, time is given over to establish Bacurau’s colorful denizens and interrelationships, as well as the townsfolk’s fondness for consuming hallucinogens. A short while later, the pudgy mayor arrives. He goes by the name of Tony Junior, a moniker that reeks of nepotism and political dynasty. Even though the entire town shuns him, he tries to gain their support by offering them a pile of used books and foodstuffs mostly past their expiration date. Not long after that, a UFO is spotted and the plot takes off, brilliantly blending action and political commentary with just a touch of mysticism as nefarious outsiders threaten Bacurau’s entire existence.
Bacurau is a tale built on the back of Brazil’s torrid past and uncertain future, so the political subtext will no doubt resonate more intimately with Brazilian audiences. But its themes are universal, and anyone who’s seen the videos of rioters storming the congressional halls on January 6th will find some of Bacurau’s antagonists eerily familiar. At the start of the film, subtitles inform us that the time is “a few years from now.” There are a couple of high-tech doodads. However, within the context of the narrative, the fact that Bacurau takes place in the near future is less sci-fi and more a prophetic warning of the dangerous direction the world is heading.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski.