Like trying to describe a dream to a friend or a game of telephone played by stoners, every synopsis of Bacurau contains elements of truth but is mostly nonsense. That is wholly intentional. Writers/directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho have whipped up a witches’ brew of old cliches and multiple genres that defies easy explanation. A deeply serious satire about what happens when the oppressed stop being polite and start getting real, Bacurau is the most fun you can legally have with a machete right now.
Set in the titular remote village in Brazil, nearly the first full hour of Bacurau plays like a legit drama. A truck bringing drinkable water runs over coffins spilled from a flatbed, in a sequence that all but tells you the metaphors ahead are not going to be subtle. Teresa (Bárbara Colen), the prodigal daughter, returns home for her grandmother’s funeral. She finds that the local gang, led by a mullet-sporting finger-ring enthusiast named Lunga (Silvero Pererira) has gone into hiding. Have no fear, like Chekov’s gun, you do not introduce a Brazilian Riff Raff without eventually letting him go off.
The catalyst for the genre-hopping involves a nefarious group of gun-toters organized by Michael, who is played by Udo Kier. You’re familiar with Udo Kier even if you don’t recognize his name, as his haunting eyes have almost certainly stared you down while you were sleeping. When Michael’s plans come into focus, they are as literally evil as any naked allegory would demand. The resulting climax echoes and inverts many a Western trope, which were mostly echoes and inversions of Eastern tropes, because no one has had an original idea since the first cave painting.
Bacurau sports top-to-bottom solid performances punctuated by delicious melodrama and overacting by the small group of English-speaking assholes. Taken individually, none of the plot developments are surprising; however, when combined, they gel to make something new. It’s like a lasagna made of ramen noodles and chocolate. The individual ingredients are familiar and delicious on their own, and the recipe really shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.
Like so much of recent fiction, Bacurau is a bonkers exploration of oppression and poverty that feels closer to catharsis than any democracy will seemingly allow. Just as Parasite likely packed a more wicked wallop for those savvy on South Korean socioeconomic concerns, Bacurau almost certainly burns brighter for Brazilians. But modern political buffoons like Tony Jr (Thardelly Lima) are as cross cultural as the film’s moral: solidarity spells the death knell of abuse by the corrupt in power.
Featuring some of the most profoundly satisfying over-the-top violence and cinematography by Pedro Sotero that is beautifully non-derivative, Bacurau is a masterful mashup and cult-classic-esque call to arms. It is easy to imagine how it would play in a packed house, even if it is sad that imagining a packed house is pretty much all we can do right now.
Grade = A