Bacurau's Directors Discuss The Cosmopolitan Universe Of The Film
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
By: Amir Ganjavie
Bacurau, the latest film by the duo Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles , more than anything else introduces us to a cosmopolitan Brazilian atmosphere which we had rarely seen in this national cinema before.
With a a revisionist look at history, and with the goal of raising questions about the old ways of exploitation, the film examines colonization from the viewpoint of the colonized, a significantly different approach compared to traditional narratives where we used to see the story from the eyes of the colonizers. The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it was praised by the critics and audience alike, and won the Jury Prize. I had the opportunity to talk to the directors about the multicultural and historical aspects of the film at Toronto Film Festival.
Amir Ganjavi, UniversalCinema Magazine (UM): I want to start by discussing the source of your inspiration for this film. Where did the idea for the script come from?
Kleber Mendonça Filho (KF) : We have been friends for many, many years and we’ve done a number of short films together. One of them was Recife Frio which was called Cold Tropics as its international title. We premiered it at a festival dedicated to Brazilian films and it was a big success. We are now in this world of genre filmmaking with sci-fi and we saw a documentary which made us think about the ways that film, television and journalism look at simple people from small communities in faraway places. We didn’t like what we saw in those films, even the well-meaning ones. They were nice films trying to do good but they were always...
KF: Yes, very patronizing from top to bottom. It was like they were saying “Hey, little people!” and then that’s how our film Bacurau began. We wanted to do a film with great people who happen to come from a very small, poor community and who would be treated like simpletons in some other movie. We wanted to avoid that so the people would be great, they would be our heroes, and they would be what Brazil is – diverse and full of contradictions, of all colours, indigenous, white, black, and so on. That’s how the idea for Bacurau began and we fell in love with that idea. We never fell out of love with it so that’s why it’s colourful.
Juliano Dornelles (JD) : People are used to seeing the other as exotic but they’re just like anybody. We know these people because we come from the northeast and it’s not only in those films that we saw at that particular film festival, it’s in the culture of Brazil, in the media, in TV shows, and it’s always like “listen to his accent and how funny it is”. You know!
UM: What was the cinematic source of inspiration for this film?
KF: There were many.
JD: There were many but the main thing is that we’d talked about making science fiction mixed with a western. We just wanted to make the history correct this time in the western aspect because in the forties and fifties, westerns kept representing the Indians as the invaders and, of course, that is not the truth. This was the first important thing for us to address when making a film like this.
KF: This film is another type of Seven Samurai or Yojimbo or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and that "person" is our character Wonga. But then because this film takes place a few years into the future so we have these foreign outsiders coming in. Then we thought about the Vietnam War because in that case the Americans had a lot of money and equipment but it’s almost like they overlooked the history of that place. They overlooked those people’s fighting capacity and it was a very unfortunate moment of American history. But our film is not really about the Vietnam War specifically. It’s about invasions, which are a part of humanity. And yes, in this film they have the pleasure of killing people.
JD: That idea of “we are hunters” is interesting because they don’t think of themselves as killers or murderers. They’re just hunters. I think that the idea of technology also justifies some of it because they see it as a kind of game but technology is employed in a very political fashion. You have the power to erase a little village from the map. You’re using political power and that helps in the game so it’s almost like they’re using their power to cheat and to help them do whatever feels good. The idea of you or me as a citizen disappearing, not physically but as a citizen, that is something I find it very scary in the film.
UM: That reminds me of Michel Foucault when he talks about the body as a political thing.
KF: Yes, exactly. That’s a very interesting reference.
UM: Yes, because when we are dealing with the government it’s kind of like we see each individual as an entity or a subject that needs to be controlled or governed according to its needs but then at any moment when they are determined to be unnecessary the government has the right to kill them or just erase them from the map.
KF: Yeah, but the whole idea as politics is a very strong notion in Brazil because it’s a country where you can have five black boys go out on a Saturday night to celebrate the fact that one of them got a job. Maybe they go out in a car and drive near two police cars and the police shoot the boys with 111 machine gun rounds before realizing that they were not criminals. Of course, that would not be acceptable even if they had been criminals. So that becomes a piece in the newspaper but then the story of one white person who has been killed in a mugging would get the same amount of space when it’s reported.
UM: I think this story is also relevant with the government that is currently in power in Brazil.
KF: Yes, everybody is now critical to the government. It’s a strange time with extreme political parties rising in power and making terrible decisions on our culture. What more can we say about this.
JD: First of all, they impeached a president with no proof of any crimes having been committed and it all started to go into a downward spiral from there. Now we’re living in this moment where nobody agrees with anything related to the government. Only about twenty-five or thirty percent support it. It’s complex and hard to talk about all of the details of our society and history.
KF: But the film was developed over many years and it’s quite incredible that it actually fits the current situation in Brazil.
JD: That’s because Brazilian society keeps repeating the same mistakes throughout history.
KF: People are very taken by the fact that we begin the film by saying that it takes place a few years from now. They’re like “Oh wow, so this is futuristic!” but all of the conflict in the film relates to chronic problems in Brazilian society from the past to the present and they will still be there in the future. Corruption, violence and poor education will all still be problems.
JD: Lack of self-esteem is also a very big problem in Brazil. We call it Mutt Syndrome because a mutt is an often stray dog with no specific breed or pedigree.
UM: You mentioned that you tried to look at the problems of colonization from the perspective of the people who were colonized. How has this impacted your work?
JD: We were just thinking about having many kinds of faces to represent a microscopic version of Brazil in that community.. But historically there were some runaway slaves who went to the country and started to form a kind of resistance. It’s not in the film but we liked thinking that Bacurau started as a Colombo. Of course, there are also Indians and white people.
KF: It’s a mix of everything.
JD: And a mix of sexual orientations to represent Brazil. Of course, we couldn’t achieve this if we only looked for known faces in the cinema because there is a very strong pattern established by the industry that lacks diversity. There’s a very refreshing reaction to Bacurau in Brazil right now. It’s in the cinemas and people are delighted with the collection of faces in the film. Unfortunately, it’s very rare to see that kind of dramatic diversity in Brazilian films so we’re very happy with the reaction. And about the Americans, I happened to meet Udo and we liked each other. We sent him the script and he wanted to do the film. The other actors they came through casting.
JD: We chose a lot of people from that region. We discovered them nearby villages and found them to be very talented and their faces to be authentic and strong for the camera.
UM: I think that the female character is played by Sonia Braga who also appeared in Aquarius. What it is her meaning in your cinema?
JD: Well, in Aquarius she was invited to make the film and she really loved the script so we worked together. We became friends and we thought that she would also be interested in this film and she was. It’s a completely different role and completely different style of film. We were very happy to work together again.
UM: Compared to Aquarius, this is a collaborative project so how did you divide the directing work?
JD: We didn’t. We did everything together from the script to the editing. We talked about the film for many months, going over the scenes and the sequence of how to shoot them. We also drew a lot and talked about scenes from Die Hard, for example.
UM: And you did rehearsals before shooting?
KF: Yes, a lot of rehearsals. We even had rehearsal for the extras. We prepared the extras, which is quite unheard of. A lot of people on the crew said that they’d never seen this before in their lives.
JD: We have plenty of time. Some people think that there were some suffering to wait all of those years to finish the film but for us it was a luxury because we had time to rehearse, to think about the scenes, and to write the script.