A man is judged by the evil he does, not the good.

Bacurau ( 2019 )

  |   March 27, 2020

The early settlers in Brazil clung to the shoreline, terrified of venturing any future into the wild and untamed inland, known as the sertão, for fear of the danger that lay within. This vast expanse forms the perfect setting for a modern day Western, centred on revenge, justice and honour, and Bacurau, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornellestting, picked up the Jury Prize winner at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

Carmelita, the 94-year old matriarch of the eponymous remote village, has just died and the villagers gather to pay their respects. Bacurau barely even graces the map, and sees precious little visitors from one month to the next. It has only the people and resources that it needs to function from one day to the next, but has developed the strong sense of community that comes with collective adversity. It has been abandoned by outsiders, including the mayor of the local region, who has sold off its water source and delivers out of date food and dirty books in ill advised peace offerings.  In the midst of their mourning, the villagers are beset by a number of strange goings on which start to rouse their suspicion. It becomes clear that some external force is trying to erase both them and the village they live in from the map. However, the foreign intruders have vastly underestimated their prey. They have not banked on their ingenuity or ferocity, and so a deadly war is waged. The people of Bacurau know that they're the only ones who can defend themselves - it has always been this way, and so it will continue.

Bacurau, with thanks to its unique setting, is beautifully filmed and punctuated with great stylistic flashes. The arid planes of the remotest Brazil give it the same feel as the vastness of the untamed American West. The focus switches rapidly from character to character, first to Theresa, who has returned back from the outside world to her little village to mourn Carmelita, to the anti-hero Pacote, who it seems shall be the leader of the resistance, before we move on yet again to focus on the intruders. Just as we start to engage with each personal story, it is wrested away. Nothing in Bacurau has a neat ending, and a kind of controlled chaos envelops everything. Despite what seems at times like a structured style similar to a standard spaghetti western, it still defies expectations, and the story unfolds as it wishes, without trying to satisfy any higher narrative. The result is a rousing experience which constantly subverts expectations.