How Bacurau Creates a Political Narrative Through Archetypes and Self-Awareness
A nation’s history is reflected in its culture. From Imperialisms to Revolutions, from Griffith to Eisenstein and many others, a film is a product of the time it was made in. And in times when there are those who think that the strongest are the ones who scream the loudest, we have work of art that shows that the strongest is the one who acts. The winner of the Cannes Jury Prize in 2019, Bacurau, proves this by deconstructing a series of elements of the classic North American Films in favor of revolutionary history.
Writers and directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles use social-political contrasts when shaping their ‘heroes’ and ‘villains,’ creating ironic visual rhymes and iconic caricatures. Starting with the ‘heroes,’ the film doesn´t have a central protagonist but several – the inhabitants of the village of Bacurau. There is a clear form of position for each individual – a humble teacher, a passive-aggressive doctor, a killer wanting redemption, and so on and so forth.
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Constantly alarming situations at lower and higher levels appear to define those people when two outsiders enter the city. Soon there is a strong sense of defense, reminiscent of The Magnificent Seven (1960), but when prostitute Sandra (Jamila Facury) is forcibly taken by an unscrupulous politician and his ‘team.’ the only doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) and Luciene (Suzy Lopes) try to do something. However, when she comes back, it seems like nothing happened. This imperfect society created by the action and reaction of the characters is what makes the work so credible. The union, honor, and honesty go well with each other. But they are not enough to be effective in their entirety.
The village is always in tune when a threat appears for the usual cowardly acts when the politician Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima) appears in search of votes in the weirdest way possible. The inhabitants soon hide in their homes. It becomes the classic scenario of a western, where a real outlaw comes to cause problems, but we only hear the dissatisfaction in the voices of those who live there. As the film develops, Bacurau is always in a position of defense. Either with Tony through ‘invisibility’ or with two outsiders through sarcasm. But one hour the attack happens as if a bunch of spoiled children had been poking at a hive.
On the ‘villains’ side, we have a strong caricature through the human hunting group led by Michael (Udo Kier). In Bacurau, there is a portrait of these hunters for treating them through fear and, more deeply, the alienation of conservatism. Destruction as an excuse for the purity of the heroic act is a very recurring concept in superhero films. In The Man of Steel (2013) or even in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), the masked destruction fetish of salvation is what keeps the viewer so immersed in works of the genre. Which is not very different from what Michael (Udo Kier) and his group do. It wouldn’t be too hard to think that Michael and other members of the group like Willy (Chris Doubek) or Kate (Alli Willow) watch Marvel/DC movies and love the devastation there, or even crying because they feel so well represented in the Peter Watkins masterpiece, Punishment Park (1971).
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What unites Bacurau’s protagonists and antagonists is the loyalty to their ideals. But mainly how their story affects it. At the beginning of the film, Plínio (Wilson Rabelo) says ‘Carmelita’ (Plínio’s mother) had a son, grandson, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, godson and a lot of friends. In the family, you have a stonemason to a scientist. There is a teacher, a doctor, an architect, a hustler, and a whore. But a thief, she didn’t generate anyone, and in that sentence, she doesn’t just talk about her own family, but about Bacurau in general. There is diversity on many levels, but not perfection at all. The hunting group, on the other hand, has phrases like ‘The world is upside down’ and the almost comical ‘I’m more American than you. I have been in America for over forty years.’ It truly shows the irony shows how the gun culture is the gateway to social blindness.
What makes the work so interesting at the end of the exhibition is to imagine a scenario of revolutions in nations that were colonized on the basis of violence. Where their natives do not accept oppression. They use the reaction as an answer. Is there anything more real today than “don’t confuse the reaction of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressor”? Bacurau is about reacting amid the senseless chaos that afflicts societies. It’s everything that could have happened in Brazil at the beginning of the discovery. It’s everything that is happening right now.