Thursday 16 May 2019

Cannes 2019 - Bacurau by Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles

Film critic turned director Kleber Mendonça Filho made a big impact on the world cinema scene with his first feature, Neighbouring Sounds (2012) then was in competion in Cannes in 2016 with his follow-up, the somehow gentler Aquarius. Bacurau has had a long gestating period, with a mysterious poster teaser and rumours of it being a sci-fi/western with the director name-checking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

The shadow of John Carpenter looms large over Bacurau, something that the director will readily admit. But with the American master somehow rediscovered and celebrated lately, there are been so lazy films imitating his style with none of the talent and inspiration. No such thing with Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles's latest however. Yes it feels John Carpenter through and through: the electronic score, the tension, the outburst of extreme violence, the fantasy element. Yet Bacurau still feels fresh and original and not just because of the completely different setting. The Brazilian directors never forget that for all his impressive visual talent, John Carpenter always infused his film with a social conscience and here it is at the heart of the story but it never feels like it is preaching and doesn't stop it from being devilishly entertaining, fun and ultra-violent at times!

The political undertones will mean more to a local audiences but it is hard not to see what the directors have in their sight, especially considering what happened a few months ago in Brazil and the rage is palpable.

It is particularly interesting how Kleber Mendonça Filho (here with a co-director) has always put communities within his stories despite being of completely different genres each time. Before the mayhem begins, he takes the time to brush the portrayal of this small community, somehow lost in the immensity of the country, one that is in conflict with outside forces. It would be a shame to reveal too much about the story but let's just say things take a very strange turn, both narratively and within the visual form and general atmosphere, to quietly disorientating effect.

Who could have suspected the Brazilian director to has such a gift when it comes to directing action scenes and here they are both brutal and thrilling, reminiscent of Assault on Precinct 13. As we settle for this second part of the story and feel we have it all figured out, we are nonetheless left with a sense of unease, as if the directors were teasing us just enough about the exact nature of what we had just seen. It is the mark of a great film that the audience leaves wondering, putting some clues together, a deliberate ambiguity that makes the film even more thrilling, especially for those who might feel the geo-political portrayal is a little too easy. But is it really...?

Among a fine cast, featuring Sonia Braga in a supporting but great part, a surprise appearance by a cult actor will make you squeal in delight.

Bacurau is a strange and thrilling UFO (unidentified filmic object) and a welcome genre tonic in the official selection.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Official Selection, In Competition.

Star rating: 

Bacurau. Brazil/France 2019. Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles. Starring Barbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Sonia Braga...

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