In Cannes, Western stands against Bolsonaro’s Brazil

CANNES, France: Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Cannes entry “Bacurau” is a feverish and violent Western about a Brazilian rural community defending itself from a hard-to-comprehend invasion. For the filmmakers, it’s not so different than Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil. “Bacurau,” which is competing for the Palme d’Or, gave the Cannes Film Festival’s most searing political statement yet. While the film is a bloody, surreal Brazilian parable with shades of “The Most Dangerous Game” and “Seven Samurai,” its makers spoke in blunter political terms Thursday.

“Brazil right now does feel like a dystopia in many, many everyday aspects,” Filho said to reporters.

At the Cannes premiere to his 2016 film, “Aquarius,” three years ago, Filho and his cast memorably held placards declaring a coup had taken place in Brazil. Just weeks earlier, Brazil’s left-wing former President Dilma Rousseff had been impeached. Last October, Bolsonaro a populist, right-wing leader sometimes compared to U.S. President Donald Trump was elected, ushering in a fraught new chapter for Brazil.

This time, Filho, his co-director Julian Dornelles and their cast didn’t protest on the red carpet. “Bacurau,” they said, spoke for them. “We used the movie as our weapon,” actor Thomas Aquino said. “This is our answer. This is how we protest.”

While “Bacurau” premiered Wednesday night in Cannes, tens of thousands of students and teachers protested in Brazilian streets over steep budget cuts to education that Bolsonaro has announced. The filmmakers said they stood in solidarity with those protesters.

“It’s very important that you don’t go insane,” Filho said Thursday. “Like, ‘Yeah, maybe we cut 30 percent of education. Maybe that’d be a good thing.’ We should never lose sight of what we believe in,” he added. “I think that is what resistance is under some strange system you don’t believe in.”

Bolsonaro has said he believes indigenous groups in Brazil have too much land set aside for their control. He supports making parts of the Amazon easier for miners and loggers to access.

Bolsonaro has also criticized the arts for “cultural Marxism” and dissolved the country’s Culture Ministry. Funding for Latin America’s biggest film and television industry has been significantly reduced.

Brazil still has a significant presence at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, including Karim Ainouz’s “Invisible Life,” playing in Un Certain Regard. As part of Cannes’ main slate, “Bacurau” is the most prominent. “It’s just amazing that this film is seeing the light of day,” Filho said, “at a time when in fact they are trying to hide Brazilian cultural output.”

During production on “Bacurau,” the Brazilian government declared that Filho had to return about $500,000 from a grant for his debut feature, “Neighboring Sounds.” He calls the demand “unprecedented in the history of Brazilian filmmaking.”

“When ‘Bacurau’ was announced in Cannes this month, they came up with another press package about this, which is not a coincidence,” Filho said. “We are dealing with this with lawyers and we hope to overturn it. It makes no sense whatsoever.”

While “Bacurau” has been in development for the last decade, Filho said the film’s extremes were fueled by Bolsonaro’s election.

“It was almost like reality was catching up with the script,” Filho said. “When that happened, we went up to 11, we went over the top.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 18, 2019, on page 12.




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