Bacurau raises unanswered questions around gun violence and race – but it's so insane that it hardly matters
For a while in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau, gun violence is a spectre, a looming inevitability for the Serra Verde area of Brazil. The tight-knit village of the title is trapped in that spectre’s shadow, with civil unrest disrupting their peaceful existence. Not only that, but the village’s matriarchal figure has died and Bacurau has stopped showing up on satellite maps.
But the directors have a disruption of their own up their sleeves, and the second that veteran exploitation actor Udo Kier shows up, the language of the film changes entirely. The cultural drama doesn’t just shift gears into a blistering shootout movie – it rips out the gearbox.
As it turns out, Kier’s character is leading a hunting team, all hell-bent on killing locals for fun. The time we spend with them is darkly comic, with Kier chewing the scenery and the hunters – all quite brilliantly coded as conspicuously Caucasian – engaging in banter that plays on their heightened, sociopathic personality types. By contrast, when we return to the locals, who are more defined by their group dynamic than any individual inner lives, the earlier serious tone sets back in.
It’s only once the locals are forced to fight back that they close the tonal gap between their scenes and those of the hunters. They don’t just arm themselves with guns: they’re weaponising the cinematic language of American exploitation to defend against the hunters. Gun violence is still alluded to as a social issue after the hunters make it part of the film’s genre elements. And even though the exploitation angle asks some unanswered questions of what the genre means in a racial sense, Bacurau is so insane and entertaining that it only begins to matter when it ends, and you have time to breathe again.
Bacurau had its UK premiere at London Film Festival 2019 and is in cinemas on 13 Mar via MUBI