This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on migration
In the near-future Brazil of Bacurau, a small working-class town stands on the brink of annihilation. The ruling elite have taken control of the water supply, and in collusion with imperialist forces plan to violently eliminate the townspeople who stand in the way of their greed. As the town fights back, the film takes a traditional “save the farm” premise and furiously radicalizes it. Heads will roll.
Bacurau serves as both a dark foretelling of Brazil’s future and a call to arms to stop its vision from becoming a reality. Kleber Mendonça Filho, the politically outspoken director of Neighboring Sounds and Aquarius, here teams up as co-writer and co-director with Juliano Dornelles, the production designer on his previous features. The result is a film that works equally well as a gory Western and as a grand commentary on social and economic inequality.
The small fictional town from which the movie takes its name is self-governed and tight-knit. The residents of Bacurau cover the spectrum of Brazil’s racial diversity, but all share a distrust of authorities. The town operates its own museum, rejects appointed officials, and supports local revolutionary Lunga (Silvero Pereira). At the heart of the film is the confrontation between this micro-society and a pack of rabid American mercenaries, led by German-born actor Udo Kier, who at the behest of the government plan to subdue the problematic townspeople — by any means necessary.
Mendonça Filho and Dornelles refrain from completely stripping the murderous oppressors of their humanity, nor do they sanctify the locals’ violent means of self-defense. But it is clear where the filmmakers’ sense of justice lies.
Legendary Brazilian actress Sônia Braga is an absolute scene-stealer as Doctor Domingas, denouncing the anesthetizing effects of a government-subsidized painkilling drug in one of many examples of the shrewd subtext beneath the film’s spectacle of action.
Bacurau’s retro feel — including dissolves and wipe transitions more familiar in decades past — further transmits the filmmakers’ concern over the global rise of an antiquated authoritarianism. The film grapples frankly with classism and racism, and explores how, despite their pale skin, wealth and European heritage, the privileged Brazilians aren’t considered equals by the modern-day colonizers.
“So much violence,” Kier’s character Michael says as the conflict with the townspeople reaches a crescendo. “This is only the beginning,” he adds. That is the filmmakers’ ominous warning to us all.
Written and directed by: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
Starring: Bárbar Colen, Thomas Aquino and Silvero Pereira
AQ’s Rating: 9/10
Aguilar is an independent critic and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.