December 1, 2021
This film, which defies genre categorization, can be seen as reflecting the Brazilian situation, immersed into decades-long multi-dimensional crises, political, economic, and now environmental. What does this film tell that we do not already know?
Brazilian drama, by filmmakers Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles who also wrote the script, produced in 2019, released in 2020.
In the poor and neglected region of North-Eastern Brazil, the village of Bacurau struggles for its survival, cut off from the water supply by government authorities.
The already challenging situation is made even worse by the arrival of foreign tourists, speaking English, who hunt them down like prey, in a kind of cruel safari. The individual members of this expedition are often veterans of military or police services of the United States, with one of them being a German fellow with a somber past.
In this strange safari, a pair of Brazilians from Sao Paolo, with some local knowledge, act as assistants and spies for the group, thinking they are an integral part of the expedition until they are told they are themselves only “locals”.
The carnage proceeds and the villagers are hunted down or fired on, including children. A corrupt politician tries to confound the villagers, by, among other actions, offering a young prostitute as proof of goodwill.
The scenes are sometimes taped by a drone of sorts, flying and preying on the villagers over them.
The villagers finally survive the onslaught, as they have done in the past, as the village’s museum recalls in its public exposition.
As could be expected, the film is interpreted as an exposition of the many challenges affecting Brazil, economic, social, political, environmental.
But that is not to say that the film is easily understood. Peter Debruge of Variety writes that the film “demands the extra labor of unpacking its densely multilayered subjects to appreciate”.
At least three analysts refer to the actual political regime of Jair Bolsonaro in particular (Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, Marc-André Lussier in La Presse, and Ela Rittencourt in Harper’s Magazine) to understand the film.
Going beyond the political, some analysts have referred to the economic and social tensions in Brazil, even referring to social class conflicts and the struggle between the have and the have-nots, as Roger Ebert and Manohla Dargis of the New York Times have suggested.
Going one step further, some observers have suggested it is a film about companies without conscience, often foreign or American owned, who pillage Brazil and its rich resources, a situation reminiscent of a colonial past. For some, these processes are linked to globalization, a kind of economic regime supported by the political regime in place.
Going even further, the film would be characteristic of the twenty-first century, “with a distillation of that impending sense of doom”, according to David Sims of The Atlantic.
ONE MORE INTERPRETATION
There is no doubt that Bacurau suggests pertinent aspects of Brazil’s current political, social, and economic challenges.
Beyond the more sophisticated interpretations, such as capitalism or globalization, there seems to be a more basic pattern in the film, that is for larger entities to exploit smaller ones. This is suggested by the fact that the Brazilians from Sao Paulo, in the film, are eager to participate in the hunt and the safari, until they are told by the American invaders that they are only “local” themselves.
In Apocalypto (2006), filmmaker Mel Gibson had presented such a pattern, when the Mayan empire kidnapped members of neighboring tribes, using them as slaves or sacrificial victims, just on the eve of the Spanish and Portuguese arrival, prefiguring still more cruelty, this time from even larger empires.
This element of size, beyond its political and economic dimensions, may indeed be an unavoidable theme that is present in Bacurau.
And also present in our twenty-first century.