The other day I went to a party and wound up talking to some millennials who are backing Bernie Sanders. The conversation turned to the movies Parasite and Joker, and one of them wondered if the popularity of their shared theme—the abyss between the haves and have nots—meant we might be returning to the rebellious 1960s.
He would find further evidence for this thesis in Bacurau, a funny, violent, unexpectedly moving Brazilian movie that won the Jury Prize at Cannes last spring. Written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Bacurau is a genre-busting entertainment that is at once a portrait of a community, a horror thriller and a timely piece of political filmmaking.
The story is set "a few years from now" in the huge area of northeastern Brazil known as the sertão, an arid, hardscrabble backlands akin to our Wild West. As the action begins, a 30-ish woman named Teresa (Bárbara Colen) returns to her tiny hometown of Bacurau to attend the funeral of her grandmother.
Bacurau is a poor, isolated, slightly magical Latin American town, like Gabriel García-Márquez's Macondo, that is just bursting with the stuff of life, from music and brothels to a museum rich with local history.
At first, things seem normal in Bacurau, whose tolerant life the filmmakers show us quietly and affectionately. The grandmother is buried in a heartfelt ceremony. The local doctor, played by the wonderful actress Sônia Braga, dispenses medicine when she's not fulminating drunkenly. And Teresa hooks up with a folk-hero crook, Pacote, played by hunky Thomas Aquino, whose crimes are shown on a big-screen TV in the center of town. Everyone's main gripe is that the smarmy regional mayor, named Tony Junior, has diverted the local water supply.