The movie theaters are closed, but some film distributors, working with theaters, have come up with a temporary fix. There are now new movies available online, and viewers can access them through theater websites, which means that a share of the streaming price goes to the theaters. I hope it doesn’t become a habit, because seeing a movie in a dark theater with a bunch of strangers is still the best. But this new system will have to do for a while.
At least in good Brazilian films, like Antonio das Mortes and Central Station, the immense interior of Brazil is a place of magic, ecstatic politics and religion, and just plain strangeness, and all of those things stand front and center in Bacurau. The title is the name of a fictional village in the middle of a dry area in northeastern Brazil, full of scrub trees and mountains in the distance.
A young man drives a tanker truck with drinkable water along a road through this wilderness. He has a young woman passenger. They’re going to the village of Bacurau, and they come upon a stretch of road littered with empty coffins, and then an accident where a motorcycle collided with a truck. A title says that the film takes place “a few years from now.”
It’s an odd enough opening for the film, but it’s just the start. The young woman is some kind of medic; she brings to Bacurau a cooler with vaccines packed in dry ice. She walks down an uncomfortably deserted street in Bacurau, and at a building with a red cross on the side, a woman sees Teresa (Bárbara Colen), stares at her and abruptly shuts the window.
Teresa has come to the village because her grandmother has died. The grandmother was esteemed, and it’s a big funeral, with a procession and a grim-sounding song about beasts dancing, a feast of fear, and phantoms haunting the wake.
The village of Bacurau feels like Macondo, the dreamy setting for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ great novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Bacurau can be full of people; and also, empty. It looks like a place out of time and outside the technology of the modern world, but there are also cars, computers and cell phones. The schoolteacher has an old paper map which shows the village but can’t find the place on the internet. And there are other worrisome things, like a row of shriveled heads on a shelf.
A politician shows up, with promises of food and water and medicines. His dump truck unloads a huge pile of old books. People jeer him.
Suddenly townspeople are found dead, shot. Two motorcycle riders zip through the town, their faces hidden by their helmets, and then a drone that at first looks like a flying saucer hovers over the area.
Soon, a group of English speakers are gathered at a large dilapidated farmhouse outside of Bacurau. Most of them are Americans. They have a meeting; each has an earpiece from which they get instructions, as if they’re automatons. They’ve apparently come to Bacurau to kill people – and maybe for pleasure.
Bacurau is a thoroughly political film – those killer tourists aren’t Americans by chance. There are questions of who controls drinking water, and by extension, who controls the country and the world. But the film is in the Brazilian political cinematic tradition of wild landscape and metaphors. It can seem inexplicable; you can’t figure out who lives where and why any of the characters turn up where they do. They just do. They come from wherever and they go to wherever.
Especially right now, I could do with less killing, but Bacurau is constantly surprising, and in its sometimes desolate, sometimes lurid, fantastic way, a wild reminder that the idea of “political” doesn’t have to mean anything about policy or voting. It can be poetic and bizarre.