BACURAU, the winner of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and Brazilian box office sensation, lives up to the term “Weird Western.”

Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, the genre hybrid borrows from sources such as Kurosawa, Leone, and Carpenter to form an explosively entertaining and provocative work.

Set in the distant future, Teresa (Bárbara Colen) is a scientist who returns to her hometown in Bacurau, Brazil after her grandmother passes away. Shortly after, strange things start to happen. The town has seemingly been wiped off the face of the map, a UFO startles one of the townspeople, and suspicious tourists arrive in town.

Part of BACURAU‘s appeal is its ability to surprise, weaving back and forth between contemporary drama and pulpy throwback. For this reason, watching this film with as little background knowledge as possible is highly recommended.

At just over two hours in length, BACURAU takes its time establishing its setting and characters. Though it may not win over impatient viewers, this approach is ultimately what yields rewarding results. BACURAU‘s world-building allows audiences to become familiar with its locations, characters and motivations so that, when the rug is pulled out from under us, there’s a sense of weight that is rare to find in, say, an ordinary action movie. As the body count rises, it’s made clear that nobody is safe, making for an intense watch.

Sônia Braga and Luciana Souza in BACURAU | Photo courtesy of IMDB

This dramatic heft benefits from some very heavy topics and ideas bubbling under the film’s surface. While broader themes such as anti-imperialism, surveillance, and political corruption are hard to miss, it’s executed in a way that feels distinctly Brazilian. It’s a fully-realized vision and it’s easy to understand why it has resonated with audiences beyond Brazil.

The presentation is, for the most part, not too showy. From the beginning, we’re provided with shot compositions not too surprising for a drama. As the story begins to transition into different genres, its stylistic flourishes become more apparent as well. Beautiful landscape shots, dramatic close-ups, and wipes evoke its Western influence. Musically, the film is just as diverse. The original music composed by Mateus Alves and Tomaz Alves Souza goes from orchestral to 80s to rustic, creating moody and evocative soundscapes.

There’s so much more about BACURAU that I’d like to discuss, but I fear that it would be doing a disservice to those interested in experiencing its many surprises and pleasures firsthand. I could discuss a particularly horrifying nighttime scene in the third act. Or I could talk at length about the film’s nail-bitingly suspenseful climactic action sequence.

But perhaps I’ve said too much already. If any of this has piqued your interest, then this is for you. As for me, it’s one of my favorite movies of the year so far.

BACURAU is currently part of Kino Lorber’s “Kino Marquee” initiative, in which they are working with over 200+ art house theaters to virtually screen new releases. If you’d like to support the film, you can stream it here: https://kinomarquee.com/bacurau.

Tom Milligan
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