“BACURAU” IS INSIDIOUSLY BAD
Bacurau feels as empty and disingenuous as Roma
Perhaps the worst part about being bamboozled is how gradual it creeps up on you and how sharp it can feel when you’ve realized that it’s happened. When you’ve invested your time into watching a film based off of positive ratings and reviews, it can feel like a personal affront, when you realize that everyone lied. What are they seeing that I’m missing? Did they watch the same thing? Do they watch movies at all? These are the questions that come to mind when you’re cheated out of two hours of your time. They are the questions I pondered after watching Bacurau, a 2019 Brazilian film, with unreasonably great ratings.
Bacurau is a nebulous film because it doesn’t have a clear direction or focus. Initially, the film centers on a funeral with the possibility of something tragic foreboding, then quickly turns into a film about how an indigenous community comes together to survive a random and ludicrous event. The path to that end is filled with nonsensical plot twists, ominous music, and a strange atmosphere that doesn’t add up to anything more than a stale reveal.
There are a lot of issues with Bacurau. For one, it feels disorganized. The beginning of the film suggests that something startling will happen and every tease preps audience for an amazing resolution. Instead though, different events are haphazardly introduced with little lean in or explanation to produce a cohesive story. Everything feels aimless and so it draws on audiences to fill in the gap of poor storytelling and to assign a greater meaning to the film.
Teresa ( Bárbara Colen), a film maker returning to her roots leads the confusion when she attends her grandmother’s funeral in her family home in Bacurau. Everyone from the community is at the funeral because her grandmother is said to be a strong figure with substantial impact among all the families in the village. But while the community mourns their loss, conflict is announced in the form of a visit from strangers. Just as suddenly as it reads, two white Brazilian scouts drive into the village for a “drink” and then drive off, after quietly leaving behind remote wireless devices used for listening into conversations. Chaos ensues shortly after with yet another introduction, but this time, of killers who see the community as sport. All of this seems enticing at first but the film falls flat.
Bacurau feels as empty and disingenuous as Roma largely because Caucasian screenwriters Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, co-opt the minority, indigenous experience to tell a story about racial discrimination and injustice, a story that they don’t seem to understand. And so the references to historical disenfranchisement and even the motivation for the Bacurau people to maintain their community and their long lasting heritage, is lost in translation. It’s done so poorly, it feels lazy, vapid, and almost offensive. References to historical events, relics, and traditions are left without context or explanations of any sort so they almost feel trivial since they don’t add to the larger story. The entire work is made especially egregious because we’ve seen the narration of minority stories done well in films like City of God when directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund included screenwriter Paulo Lins in the creation of the film. It’s clear that Meirelles and Lund understood that they couldn’t possibly understand the perspective of the black experience and wanted to address injustices to the community with care. Bacurau, missed this opportunity.
The film is upsetting because it has such a loose plot development, incongruent character momentums and disjointed pacing that makes the viewing experience bewildering. Yet, its mediocrity was met with awards while minority films are constantly ignored and left on the wayside. The worse part is that the intention behind the film is meaningful and it’s easy to understand where Filho and Dornelles were heading, but their motives are overshadowed by the jarring failings in the film.
Despite this, the eerie energy of the movie can be explained away by calling it abstract. Doing so however, wrongfully absolves the work from its errors which need to be examined. Yet, it’s almost as if, Filho and Dornelles, use violence as a way to distract from the complete bizarre effect of their plot holes and terrible character developments. This dissonance is especially illustrated with the addition of Michael (Udo Kier), the enigmatic man who leads the militia of hunters and adversaries to the Bacurau community. Despite his extremely heinous actions and those of his team, no context is ever provided about why they engage in their horrid behaviour until it’s too late and even then, it’s narrowly addressed. Instead, almost as an after thought, their connection to the community is proven to be a senseless exchange between two corrupt forces. This failing is consistent in almost every aspect of the film, leaving loose ends throughout the story. Yet none of the delayed details in the film—which are eventually revealed at the end—help to balm the harsh and uncomfortable feel of its perplexities or to the story line. It begs the question, what was the point of it all?
It took a while, but people are finally starting to realize that in academic writing, sometimes if a piece of work is difficult to understand, it’s probably just bad writing masquerading behind pompous airs. Bacurau is a great example of this phenomenon and the effects of toxic positivity and the willingness to accept everything as great. Sometimes we just have to admit that if a piece of work is so abstract viewers have to explain away problems and fixate on minute segments to find value, it’s just bad work. So it’s OK to say you don’t like Bacurau because it wasn’t good.