A great film director once said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Bacurau is one of these films.
At first glance, it looks like a typical poverty porn kind of movie. Bacurau is a remote and impoverished rural town nestled in the rocky hills somewhere in the northeastern part of Brazil. The townsfolk are struggling against a government that has diverted water away from peasant communities while fending off politicians trying to bribe them for votes.
In the first act of the film, a boorish mayoral candidate dumps useless books in front of the school and donates expired food with a box of addictive drugs marketed as painkillers.
As the movie progresses, sinister events start to happen and dead bodies pile up. It turns out that somewhere beyond the town is a group of wannabe bounty-hunter gringos who can’t wait to make their blood-sport fantasies come true. At this point, Bacurau transforms into a unique and witty film that melds different genres – western, dystopia, folklore, revenge fantasy, and small-town life.
Using these elements, the movie unpacks sociopolitical commentaries that reflect Brazil’s history. You don’t necessarily have to go to Wikipedia for this and any person who lives in a third-world country can relate. The movie draws inspiration from the cangaceiro (social outlaws) and coronnelismo (oligarchy). It also takes a jab at the American entitlement and arrogance of people who think their privilege gives them the right to fuck over those with none of it.
An androgynous Robin Hood figure named Lunga decides to help the townsfolk fight back against an imminent threat. The amateur bounty hunters walk into town assuming they have the upper hand, failing to learn from the town’s history because two of its members assume that the Bacurau Museum had nothing to tell.
These two are actually Brazilians, who assume that their European features make them white and therefore better than residents of a rural town. They’re the only ones who don’t have an earpiece like the rest of their white peers, who are receiving orders from a shadowy authority figure. One man is particularly thankful for the opportunity of venting his anger against lives that don’t matter to him because he can’t shoot up a mall.
Bacurau has thinly drawn characters and crude villains, but you’d still be rooting for its people anyway. The town has a robust life filled with diverse minorities. The movie shows ordinary people living their lives and doesn’t shy away from showing bodies that you wouldn’t see in a mainstream movie.
The movie culminates into a satisfying showdown with gory practical effects. Anamorphic lens shots, screen swipes, and an eclectic soundtrack give it a 70’s cinema feel. It looks as much as it feels like a classic movie.
Bacurau is a dense and disturbing film that steadfastly commits to its purpose. You can’t simply build a new world by crushing the old one. The residents of Bacurau are not only fighting against invaders who think they are disposable but they’re also forced to fight a world that thinks that their history is negligible.
Bacurau is a thrilling genre-blurring drama that turns community warfare into a thought-provoking exploitation flick with a sociopolitical commentary.