An intoxicating film about Brazilian rodeo workers that's pleasingly multi-layered and subversive in its portrayal of childhood, masculinity and gender roles
This second feature from young Brazilian filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro won a Special Jury Prize at the 2015 Venice Film Festival and it's easy to see why it wowed critics and audiences. Neon Bull is sexy, earthy and beautifully photographed by Mexican cinematographer Diego Garcia, who also shot Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendour. But more than that, its portrayal of childhood, subversion of ideas about masculinity and gender roles, and questioning of human-animal relations make it pleasingly multi-layered. You won't see a more thought-provoking film about Brazilian rodeo workers this year.
Those workers are Iremar (Cazarré) and Zé (Pessoa), bull handlers who travel to north-eastern Brazil in a huge, rickety, wooden-sided truck driven by their female boss Galega (Jinkings). Also on board is Galega's young, horse-obsessed daughter (Santana). Their business is vaquejada, a controversial sport which involves two riders pulling a bull down by its tail. For one night-time event, Iremar coats one animal in neon powder; it literally glows in the dark.
But Iremar's real passion is designing women's clothes. In the film's startling opening scene we see him walking across a field of coloured litter to retrieve a discarded mannequin and later we watch Galega, dressed in one of Iremar's horse head costumes, perform a mesmerising dance sequence to a pumping electro soundtrack while bathed in red neon. There are other equally rich set-pieces, such as when Iremar and Zé try to steal semen from a thoroughbred horse (let's just say it's a hands-on sort of heist). Mascaro comes at these scenes as he does everything else: unfussily, a dispassionate observer of humanity in all its rough beauty.
There's a Making-of featurette which shows Mascaro, Garcia and their crew at work on some of the more visual scenes, including the dance sequence. There's also an interesting (though poor quality) on-stage interview from the Film fra Sør festival in Oslo in 2016. [Barry Didcock]
Released by Second Run