Toronto Film Festival 2019, which took place from September 5 to September 15, showcased hundreds of films, from Hollywood dramas, such as Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, to experimental undertakings such as Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau. In fact, the Brazilian western slash si-fi saga was one of the most talked about offerings at this year’s event. Set in the not-so-distant future, in the fictional town of Bacurau in northern Brazil, which is deliberately taken off the map after the death of its matriarch at the age of 94, the film is an insightful blend of entertainment, and serious issues of geopolitical and class inequality.
The film starts with the villagers of Bacurau struggling to source basic amenities. The phone coverage is intermittent and a drone-like contraption keeps making the rounds overhead. The citizens of Bacurau soon discover that the government has forsaken the town and is pretending that it no longer exists. The story does not stop there, however, because the powers that be have also leased the area to bloodthirsty American hunters, who are free to treat the region’s inhabitants as prey. The return of a former resident to town after the death of the matriarch, who just happens to be her grandmother, spurs the townspeople to fight back against their oppressors. As the villains close in on the town, the community prepares to defend themselves with the help of a locally-sourced psychotropic drug.
The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year, where it was described as a revisionist Western, is packed with stunning landscape shots and evocative close-ups of its characters. The directors also use horizontal wipes and sudden zooms that hark back to spaghetti westerns and science-fiction movies. All in all, this genre hybrid (think Arthouse and Grindhouse on steroids) packs a powerful visual punch that goes hand-in-hand with its message. Gabriela Silva from reviewbox.com.br says that it is precisely this blend of social consciousness and entertainment value that has garnered Bacurau favorable reviews both in Brazil and abroad. “While this shoot ‘em up film with an ever-rising body count is certainly entertaining, it can also be viewed as a serious depiction of current social problems. Some of the issues addressed in Bacurau include exploitation or marginalized communities, the negative influence of the government on everyday people and the world-wide damage caused by America,” she says.
Bacurau is Kleber Mendonça Filho’s follow-up to Aquarius, which screened in Cannes in 2016. Perhaps not surprisingly, during the premiere, Filho and the cast held up signs protesting the removal from office of the Brazilian left-wing president Dilma Rousseff in 2016.