By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Now available for on-line viewings via the Kino Marquee virtual exhibition platform, BACURAU is an engrossing and startling thriller from Brazilian writer/directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. Our interview with the duo that began here continues below.
BACURAU is set in the titular, rural town in northeast Brazil where the residents begin noticing signs that they’re being isolated from the rest of the world. They eventually discover that a band of wealthier, well-armed foreigners, led by Michael (Udo Kier), has targeted their village as a hunting ground. (Note: SPOILERS about some of the specific action follow.) For a list of on-line “screening rooms,” tied to theaters that had planned to show the movie, where you can view BACURAU, click here.
Can you talk about the presentation of the violence in BACURAU?
JULIANO DORNELLES: We always felt pretty comfortable having graphic violence in the film, but we talked about presenting it in a different way. It shouldn’t be like…
KLEBER MENDONÇA FILHO: The one scene I like to discuss is when Damiano [Carlos Francisco] is taking care of the plants and he’s naked, and then the two people attack his house and one of them is shot. The second part of the scene is what really appealed to us, because it’s really about how the people being attacked are dismayed at what happened, and they are basically trying to understand, why are you doing this? That’s the main question that is asked three or four times in the film: Why is this happening? And they try to talk to [the other attacker], to figure out what’s happening. It’s all about trying to understand why the violence is taking place. When you do that, I think you have enough room to show the destructive power of violence one minute earlier, which is when you have the very gory moment, which I believe is technically correct from the point of view of human anatomy.
JD: We always get a little surprised when people talk about the “extreme violence” in BACURAU, as because we never had that point of view on the violence. We always had an interest in the side part of it. I remember, for example, talking about influences. Now, I’ve seen two different approaches to violence that are very interesting. One is, of course, in the classic spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, with all the preparations for the shootout, but the actual violence is very quick and is over in a few seconds. All those things that happen before the shooting, all the music and the looks, are what takes time, and this is one approach. The other one was something that Kleber mentioned when we started to be friends, from Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN, where it’s about how it takes a long time and it’s very difficult to kill somebody, and it’s ugly and messy. That, for me, is an interesting way to represent violence in films, not only for the spectacle of visual effects and blood splattering.
KMF: Also, at the end of the film, the community looks completely devastated by everything that has happened. That was incredibly important; we never wanted to have the RETURN OF THE JEDI ending, where everybody’s singing and dancing around the fire.
JD: Yeah, the little bears, the Ewoks. It’s a fucking tragedy, man! Why are you dancing?
KMF: So ours is the complete opposite, like when the museum lady says, “We will clean everything, but don’t touch the walls.” Which is too bad, it’s terrible. That’s what we were after. But to finish the discussion about violence, there is another film that I loved because of the way it is used, because ultimately it’s a very moral film, which is David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. In the first 15 or 20 minutes, there is an amazing sequence in a diner that belongs to Viggo Mortensen’s character, and it establishes that the diner has only wonderful people in it. He’s a very nice guy, he’s married, he has a family, it’s a lot of nice people in a small town. And then these two horrible men come in, and the violence goes up, up, up, they get nastier and nastier, they sexually assault a woman, things get worse and worse, and then [snaps fingers] an explosion of violence like I have seen very few times in my life. I just went, “Wow!” Only Cronenberg could do something like that. So a lot of BACURAU comes from that scene.
JD: Viggo Mortensen’s character is similar to Pacote [Thomas Aquino]: “I don’t want to be involved with violence anymore,” but he’s a fucking specialist at it [laughs].
Were any of the villagers played by locals who had not acted before, or were they all professional actors?
JD: We worked a lot with people from the region, from nearby villages and the place where we filmed. It’s not called Bacurau; it’s a small town called Barra in the district of Parelhas, and we had this wonderful group of people who helped us find many interesting faces and personalities from the area. Some of them just worked with us as extras, but some of those extras got promoted.
KMF: We discussed extensively that this film could not have extras in the classic sense, because extras in many films are just like furniture. They are there, they are living people, but they do not really give you drama in the frame. This film had to be teeming with life and drama, and if you saw somebody, it would have to feel like that person is there because he or she is living there, and not because they were planted there by the directors.
JD: We had one month of preparation with the extras, which is quite unusual in Brazil.
KMF: The extras stopped being extras and became part of the community, and they gave us a lot of truth. They were so amazing that some of them were promoted, as Juliano said, and became characters with speaking parts, and that was wonderful.
One of my favorite sequences in BACURAU involves the two people who come in on motorbikes, and it becomes very tense as you don’t know how their interaction with the townspeople is going to go. Can you talk about developing that sequence and building that tension?
KMF: I’m very happy you mention that, because we’re never asked to discuss that sequence, and I really love it. The middle part was shot like a musical, when they are “attacked” by the guy with the guitar.
JD: For me, it is the first cathartic moment of the film [laughs].
KMF: Because at first they are annoyed by the guy with the guitar, who’s making snarky remarks about the city people, so that was done like a musical, with background action and people smiling and laughing, close-ups of the feet with dolly shots and using Panavision for the three characters and the way they’re interacting. But the portion before, when they show up and go into the little bar, that’s a classic Western sequence. There’s the anticipation, the arrival, and of course they don’t come in on horses but rather on motorbikes, but that’s all very Western. And then it becomes a musical, and then comedy, which is crazy to say, but it is. It’s very funny, because Pacote plays the role they expect people from a little town to play—silly and ignorant and kind of dumb—and he has a smile that shows he’s playing the role he knows these people expect him to play. And then it becomes nerve-wracking, because the outsiders have information the townspeople don’t have.
JD: The whole idea of making BACURAU was to always be ahead of the viewer. When you think you have the answers, there’s another question. That’s a wonderful feeling to have.
KMF: I wish I could see the film having not seen the film, even though that’s impossible!