Bacurau (2019)

A tale of how a small, quaint and peaceful village of Bacurau responds to a threat weaving a seamless film that mixes together elements of thriller, Western, and socio-political commentary to create a cinematic experience like no other.

8/8/20234 min read

Silvero Pereira in 'Bacurau'
Silvero Pereira in 'Bacurau'

Portugese (Brazil), English,

132 minutes, 2019

Director: Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles

Cast: Barbara Colen, Sonia Braga, Udo Kier, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira

Awards: Won Jury Prize and Nominated for Queer Palm & Palme d ‘Or at Cannes Film Festival, 2019; Won Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) Awards, 2021; Won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, Cinema Brazil Grand prize, 2020; Won Best Foreign Language Film, New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) Awards, 2020; Winner Best International Film, Munich Film Festival, 2019

The film at the start says-“few years from now”- so we take it that it might have some sci-fi elements or futuristic instruments, technological or otherwise, that may form the base of the story, right? Wrong. There is nothing of that sort here and I may add that whatever is shown and construed to happen ‘few years from now’ could be happening somewhere in this world already.

The film is set in a small village of ‘Bacurau’ in the municipality of (fictional town) Serra Verde. Teresa (Barbara Colen), a girl probably in her late twenties or early thirties is returning to this small and quiet village to participate in the funeral of Carmelita, her 94 year old grandmother, who is regarded as matriarch of that community. Various people gather and among them is Pacote (Thomas Aquino) who was Teresa's boyfriend earlier. Unknown to most people, Pacote is hunted by law in a shoot-out and hence has changed his name to Acacio. The guy in the shoot-out was wearing helmet and that gives Pacote and escape where he tells others that he is not the one.

On day as Plinio (Wilson Rabelo), village school teacher, is teaching kids in his class and trying to find Bacurau on Google maps, can’t locate it and think of some strange goof up. A kind of fair is organized in the village when mayor of that area, Tony Junior comes there unannounced to seek village votes for upcoming election. The village folks do not like him because he is corrupt and his scheming has deprived the village of water which is stored in the dam built upstream. To avoid him, everybody hides. He comes there and donates books which are not in good shape, donates food and medicines, most of which have passed their expiry date and announces that their water problem will be solved. However, nobody comes to meet him.

After few days, strange things start to happen in the village- A village elder on his bike spots a drone hovering above his head; mobile signal is lost, lots of horses escape at night from a farm, the water tanker supplying water to village comes to the village bullet riddled and two bikers from south Brazil in strange costumes tour the village. Villagers ask the bikers if they are there to see the museum. They answer in negative and tell them that this village is not on maps. Pacote sends two villagers with some horses to return them to the farm owner. When they arrive at farm, they see the entire familygunned down, dead. The two villagers run from there to report but on their way they encounter those same bikers who shoot them. Village now grapples with this new threat- somebody is targeting them and they do not know who and why.

The two bikers return to a building where they meet other English speaking Americans. This group seems to be comprised of trigger happy guys and girls and is led by Michael (Udo Kier). At the meeting, Americans are receiving instructions via their earpieces from someone above. They kill the two bikers because they killed two villagers who they were not supposed to kill. We discover in the meeting that this group is there to eliminate villagers. Why, we don’t know yet.

Pacote meanwhile discovers that the two villagers sent for returning horses are shot dead and seeks the help of Lunga (Silvero Pereira), a village rebel who lives incognito near dam. He asks Lunga’s help in battling the foreigners. Lunga camps in village and they form a strategy. As they are discussing, they find that 9 year old kid is killed by the foreigners.

Soon we see foreigners marching into village secretly from different approaches. However, the villagers are more than ready. A foreigner discovers that arms from museum are missing concluding that villagers could be armed. However, he is soon killed by Lunga. One by one, all foreigners are killed except Michael. I will not reveal further as that will give out spoilers.

One of the film's greatest strengths lies in its character development. The ensemble cast, led by Sonia Braga as the resilient and formidable Domingas, an elderly village doctor, portrays a diverse range of individuals who collectively embody the spirit of resistance against external threat. ‘Bacurau' delves into Brazil's complex social fabric, touching upon themes of identity, colonialism, and exploitation. 'Bacurau' is a film that defies categorization and fuses genres and profound social commentary to make it a remarkable film.

About the directors, Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles

Kleber Mendonca Filho was born in November, 1968 in Recife city, Brazil. His co-director, Juliano Dornelles too was born in Recife, in the year 1980. Kleber graduated in journalism from Federal University of Pernambuco and started working as a journalist and film critic for ‘Jornal Do Commercio’ and ‘Folha de S. Paulo’, a very old newspaper in Brazil.

Kleber started making documentaries and small video clips in nineties and graduated to making short films after 2000. Advent of digital revolution in films helped him make lot of short films in the following years. He also made a full length feature documentary, ‘Critico’ in 2008.

His first full length feature film, ‘Neighbouring Sounds’ (‘O Som ao Redor’) was made in 2013 and garnered many awards and accolades. Present film ‘Bacurau’ is his third film which shared the Jury award with French film ‘Les Miserables’ directed by Ladj Ly at Cannes film festival, 2019. This is the first time Kleber has shared directorial credits with Juliano Dornelles.