Updated: May 22, 2021 7:41:51 pm
Brazilian film Bacurau reminded me of an old Ajith film, Citizen. The Tamil film, which released about two decades ago, was the story of a small fictional hamlet, Athippatti, which is surrounded by the sea. Fishing is the main occupation of the village with a population of 700-odd souls. The villagers find out that they have been betrayed by the corrupt politicians and officers of the law and decide to assert their political will in the form of protest. The evil men in power cannot allow that to happen, so they come up with a sinister plan to wipe out the village and everyone living in it. Overnight, the entire village goes under the sea and with it all the official documents that could prove the existence of Athippatti. It simply disappears from the map of India.
Cut to 2019, Brazilian filmmakers Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles imagine a film set in the near future, where an entire village is erased off Google Maps. What are the odds? Bacurau is touted to be a scathing critique of Brazilian politics. The native politics and a few cultural references may get lost on the foreign audience, but the universality of its themes makes it relatable.
The opening credit of Bacurau reminds us of a Star Wars movie. The CG shot set in space slowly pans towards the earth. In a second, we are transported to the fictional village Bacurau located in the northeastern region of Brazil. In a way, it is a story of an alien race, which is filled with hatred. That race has no business living in human civilization and yet it is fast spreading its vicious tentacles across the world and turning humans against each other.
The canvas of Bacurau is so vast and universal that you can project your emotions, thoughts, experience and knowledge on it. It has the power to speak to every audience on a personal level. So much so that many compared this film to director Mari Selvaraj’s Karnan, starring Dhanush. The issues these films tackle are common to us all — human rights violations, bigotry, the culture of violence, dehumanization based on one’s skin colour, native tongue, sexual orientation, food of choice, wearing clothes of preference, or the faith one chose to believe in. You don’t need a certain degree of understanding of Brazil politics to feel the pain and struggle of people of the country.
Bacurau as an allegory is a paradox. It is an utopian village set in a dystopian period. It feels like the last place on the earth where humanity could take refuge. As a community, Bacurau understands the core sentiment of personal freedom. For example, physical intimacy is not deemed as a behaviour that needs to be regulated. You can see a girl asking her friend to spend the night with her while sitting next to her father at the dining table. And the girl’s overtures don’t even raise as much as an eyebrow. It is because her father knows who his daughter sleeps with is her own choice and he can’t have a say in it. It is also a place where sex workers are treated with kindness and respect, and not stigmatized over their profession. The community only rejects thieves. Transexuals, homosexuals and government-approved outlaws all hold an important place in the community.
All hell breaks loose when a few members of the dystopian community pay a visit to Bacurau. A bunch of white supremacists from America arrive in Bacurau to indulge their bloodlust through a grisly human safari. The team led by a German-American, played by Udo Kier, is so twisted. What may baffle you the most is even this murderous group pretends to have some semblance of human decency and at times even take a moral high ground while bickering among themselves. They also rationalise their sick fascination for human safari against the killings committed for monetary gains.
At a point in the film, filmmakers Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles distinctly capture the contrast between savagery and civilization. An indigenous man is standing butt naked in his garden. Two other people, fully clothed and who think their skin colour makes them a more evolved and superior race, sneak up on him bearing guns and ammunition. In another moment, you also get to see an indigenous couple standing naked and looking down on a person as if he is some kind of an alien. And the couple even rushes an injured person, who had come to kill them, to medical help.
Bacurau is not the film, which is only meant for deep reading into its allegory and symbols. It also works as a thriller, which uses elements of spaghetti westerns. Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles have not pulled their punches when it comes to showing violence. Despite its ultra-violence, the film comes up short on creating dramatic tension as it keeps you in a deep meditative state.
Bacurau is streaming on Mubi.
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