BACURAU

“I think he could have been a good person once,” a character muses.

“He had a mother,” another admits.

Good, bad, or ugly, we all had mothers once. And, as Ben Wade says in 3:10 to Yuma, “Even bad men love their mommas.”

There’s more than a tinge of Western in Bacurau—Kino Lorber’s recent release via the virtual theater. The story starts with the death of a mother, the matriarch of the titular Brazilian town. Teresa (Bárbara Colen), returns home to pay her respects and, on the way, passes a motorcyclist killed in an automotive accident. The other vehicle involved: a truck carrying caskets. Not the last time either will grace the frame.

Written and directed by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho, Bacurau feels like two, maybe even three movies stitched together. Before we meet Teresa, Bacurau opens in space, gazing down at the world with grand distance. A few screen wipes give the movie a sense of ’70s science fiction, and the presence of a UFO saucer straight out of War of the Worlds provides an unsettling incongruity to the modern-day handheld technology the villagers use. All movies hold secrets; some play it closer to the vest than others.

Back down on the ground, the village of Bacurau is impoverished thanks to crooked politician Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima). He may deliver truckloads of books to the school and food to the villagers, but the food is expired, and the books are old and broken. The villagers need both but want neither. They want the water turned on, and Tony Jr. refuses.

Why is Tony Jr. trying to drive the villagers from the land? Where did that strange UFO come from? And what are those two BMXers in Day-Glo jumpsuits up to? It’ll all come into focus in due course, and with a fair amount of bloody violence. When the BMXers show up in Bacurau, they should have asked where the name came from. They would have learned that the town was named after a bird of prey. And when offered a tour of the Bacurau history museum, they should have accepted. Then they would have known what they were up against. They might have even thought twice about their next step. It’s amazing how some movies will go to great lengths to spare their victims. And how often characters fail to listen.

There’s a lot at work in Bacurau, all of it unfolding on cinematographer Pedro Sotero’s anamorphic canvas. It gives the craggy landscape a majestic quality, but it also reduces many of the characters to types: Good guy, bad guy; drunken doctor, maniacal killer; wise old trickster, hooker with a heart of gold. It all works in the moment, but it doesn’t weave old tales in new ways. It does have Udo Kier as a man willing to do anything though—but some secrets are best discovered on your own.

Bacurau (2019)
Written and directed by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho
Produced by Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt, Emilie Lesclaux
Starring: Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Thardelly Lima, Sônia Braga, Udo Kier
Kino Lorber, Not rated, Running time 131 minutes, Streaming
Photos courtesy Kino Lorber. Header photo by Victor Jucá.