Ewan Gleadow

Film review: Bacurau

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Copyright: Vitrine Filmes

Diving into the latest passion project of a director that hasn’t exactly left any impression on the larger, more general public of filmgoers is always a risk. Bacurau is one such endeavour, from directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, two men I have no experience with when it comes to their direction, tropes or storytelling tactics. The recent hit that has become of their latest project seems like a perfect way to introduce myself to their work, and more or less this is the introduction many people will take if they have any interest whatsoever in their direction.

For me, their directing style didn’t really give me whatever I was looking for. All I had expected was a solid enough spin on the Western genre about a town that finds one day they are no longer located on any maps and are without service on their phones. The premise sounds a lot lighter than it is, seemingly preparing us by showcasing some light drama within the town, my first impression was rather strong. That was until I realised Bacurau isn’t a dissection and study of the Mexican people, it is instead a film that has attracted legend of B-Movie films Udo Kier, to portray the villainous Michael.

Essentially the film is about the town of Bacurau fending off against politicians, corruption and Michael, the leader of a rag tag bounty hunter crew who are cleaning house throughout the country. All of this would be fine if it were built up correctly, with the pacing and overall tone of Bacurau being all over the place to say the least. Its haphazard storytelling is frequently frustrating, with much of the running time devoted to building up villains that aren’t all that interesting. Predictable motif and boring set pieces litter the film when we should be spending much more time with the engaging characters that reside in the town itself.

This is such a jarring shift in tone though, with the first forty minutes of the film building itself up as a slow burning drama that looks to focus in on the hardships of working-class Mexicans who find themselves at the defeatist end of government legislation and a Mayor who doesn’t care. All of this is certainly interesting, yet I fear that directors Filho and Dornelles weren’t satisfied with a carefully crafted dramatic piece and instead throw poor ideas at the film with no ease or elegance.

Losing itself in whimsy and failing to articulate its more pressing and interesting ideas, Bacurau is a strange disappointment that I can’t help but feel, if anything, sorry for. It’s certainly managing to bring together the makings of an enjoyable movie, but fails to reach out further than it is capable of, instead turning into some weird western love story, one that isn’t really all that interesting. With a trim of the script and a twist of the directors arm to make this into a more believable tale, you’d have a near masterpiece on your hands.