“Bacurau”, a film of resistance to the Bolsonaro era
About a year ago, the far-right candidate Jair Messias Bolsonaro was elected President of the Republic of Brazil with an ultra-neo-liberal economic program and a hateful, individualistic, misogynistic, homophobic and racist discourse . More than fifty-five years ago, a civil-military coup d’etat suspended the democratic institutions of the Brazilian republic and oriented the state in a totalitarian sense. These two powers share many common points, in particular, wanting to consolidate the inequalities between social classes and to tackle oppositions: artists, intellectuals, academics, who exercise their critical sense and their freedom of thought.
If one considers Brazilian cinema, the period of the dictatorship (1964-1985) was one of the most fruitful and creative, and includes films carrying out a particularly just political analysis of these difficult years. This cinematographic heritage is taken up today by filmmakers like Kleber Mendonça Filho, one of the most important Brazilian directors today. In his first feature film, Les bruits de Recife(2012), he films a street in Boa Viagem, a middle-class and affluent district of the capital of Pernambuco, one of the northeastern states of Brazil. In this choral film, the street is a character in its own right, its inhabitants, belonging to the well-to-do and middle strata of society, barricade themselves behind the gates of their homes and maintain ambiguous relationships with domestic workers, security guards and janitors.
Through the editing, the soundtrack, and by using cinematographic references to a surrealist universe and to horror films, Kleber Mendonça Filho establishes a permanent tension weighing on characters who feel watched, or even invaded by popular strata . His film narrative, nourished by references to the peasant struggle of the 1950s but also to the colonial past, refers to Masters and slaves by Gilberto Freyre , a major sociological and historical study, written in the 1930s.
“Surviving images, to use the idea of historian Georges Didi-Huberman, haunt Les noises de Recife and historicize the social relations of class and race in present-day Brazil .
For his second feature film, Aquarius (2016), Kleber Mendonça Filho has once again chosen the Boa Viagem district of Recife. Putting the theme of aging at the heart of his film, he recounts the struggle of Clara, the main character, to stay in her apartment, against the project of a real estate agency that seeks to destroy the building where she has lived for a long time. replace it with “American-style” buildings – destroying, in the process, the memory of Clara and the neighborhood. Like the street in Les noises de Recife , the old building where Clara lives can be seen as a historical allegory of the “master’s house”, or even of Brazil – a space where social tensions of class and race are concentrated.
Aquarius leaves at the time of the removal process of Dilma Rousseff. During its projection at the Cannes Film Festival, the film team exhibits signs denouncing this dismissal as a coup. This position could be at the origin of the sanctions taken by the Brazilian State: prohibition of the film to the under 18 years; exclusion of the film for the selection proposed for the Oscar for best foreign language film.
The imagination of sertão
Kleber Mendonça Filho shares the making of his third film, Bacurau , currently playing in France, with Juliano Dornelles, artistic director of his previous films. Unlike The sounds of Recife and Aquarius , urban films, the action of Bacurau , name of a night owl but also the village where is located the film takes place in the backwoods , an arid region in central North -Brazilian est. Far from being trivial, this choice makes possible several levels of interpretation, because the sertão has inspired over the generations the literary, musical, pictorial, cinematographic imagination, as a privileged space for the construction of “Brazilianness”.
In many artistic productions, the space of the sertão has been constructed in opposition to that of the coast, creating a dichotomy between these two spaces characterized by social orders based on opposite poles, such as monarchy / republic, barbarism / civilization, inertia / movement, or archaism / modernity. The sertão / littoral duality is however ambiguous: if the sertão constituted the imaginary base of the Brazilian nation, it was also identified with a form of resistance to modernity and “civilization”, while the “civilized” littoral s ‘is inscribed as a reproduction of European culture, not authentic, an antithesis of the Brazilian nation.
As in the two preceding films, the directors continue to use in Bacurau of the surviving images of the Brazilian history, in particular those related directly to the sertão , like the War of Canudos and the cangaço . At the end of the XIX th century, the village of Canudos, within the State of Bahia, between resistance and in open conflict with local oligarchic powers and the new Brazilian republican regime; the resulting war led in 1897 to the total annihilation of Canudos and the death of most of its inhabitants. In Bacurau, the village is threatened by a group of Americans participating in a game of “manhunt”, with the support of a couple of Brazilians from the south of the country: the film thus returns to the contemptuous representation of the population of the northeast among part of the inhabitants of the south of the country, at the origin of derogatory speeches repeated many times by Bolsonaro.
For its part, the Cangaço was a form of active banditry in the North este between the XIX th and XX th centuries. Historian Eric Hobsbawm sees it as a kind of social banditry, because if these nomadic bands lived on theft and pillage, they were indeed the fruit of social inequalities imposed by landowners and the Brazilian government .
In the film by Dornelles and Mendonça, the inhabitants of_ Bacurau_ are very attached to their museum, which traces the history of the sertão , and in particular of these cangaçeiros , with their weapons, photos and tools – this museum will be one of main locations of the film’s final battle.
On the other hand, as in Les bruits de Recife and Aquarius , these surviving images are updated and serve to problematize and reinforce the range of possible interpretations of Bacurau. The cangaçeiro is a recurring figure in Brazilian cinematographic history: a bandit in O Cangaçeiro (1953) by Lima Barreto, revolutionary in The Black God and the Blond Devil (1964) by Glauber Rocha, figure of the counter-culture in The Scented Ball (1997) by Paulo Caldas and Lírio Ferreira. In Bacurau , the figure of the cangaçeirois embodied by the character of Lunga, a bandit who lives on the outskirts of the village and who returns to defend it, and whose figure is a hybrid representation between androgynous / queer and Mad Max character .
An allegorical use of violence
From John Carpenter to Sergio Leone, passing by Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino, Bacurau crosses several cinematographic genres such as western, horror and science fiction: popular genres, which allow to reach a very diverse audience, while situating the film in an allegorical context which refers to the Brazilian cinema engaged in the 1960s, whose surviving images speak of resistance against the civil-military dictatorship. This is also the case for the song Requiem para Matraga , sung by Geraldo Vandré, singer engaged in the 1960s against the dictatorship, used in Bacurau as it was in the film L’ Heure et le tour by Augusto Matraga (1965 ) by Roberto Santos, aclassic of Brazilian cinema of that time .
Bacurau also dialogues with the cinema of Glauber Rocha, one of the main filmmakers of Cinema Novo in the 1960s .
On the one hand, it does so by taking hold of Brazilian history and using popular culture not as an ornament, but by integrating it into the film narrative: capoeira, to which the inhabitants de Bacurau practice to prepare for war, or the presence of Lia de Itamaraca, singer, composer and dancer of ciranda (a popular dance from the state of Pernambuco), who plays the matriarch of the village who died at the start of the film , and which returns at the end in spectral pattern to allow the capture of the leader of the invaders.
This dialogue with the cinema of Glauber Rocha unfolds, on the other hand, through an “aesthetic of violence”, a concept thought by the specialist in Brazilian cinema Ismail Xavier.
In her previous films, Mendonça avoided explicitly filming violence, even if it was still latent because of existing social tensions. In Bacurau , it is present as a metaphor and expression of the aesthetic which, in the film, results from the synthesis of several cinematographic genres, as we have already pointed out. On the other hand, if, in Glauber Rocha, the intellectuals are the holders of political consciousness and the engine of “the revolution”, in Mendonça and Dornelles, the “common people” ( o povo ) decide and organize to fight against the violence of the invaders, using the weapons of the old cangaçeiros hung in the museum of the village.
Bacurau is therefore a film of resistance, where the values of the inhabitants of the village, their sense of community, compassion, respect for differences, are effective weapons against foreign invaders and corrupt local politicians (such as the character of the mayor of the village) – a metaphor for the current Brazilian political situation. In this, the purpose of the film is eminently universal, and calls for collective mobilization in the face of the ultra-neo-liberal and extremist wave that knocks on our doors.