Bacurau (2019)

Everything being well, this is a film I should have seen in a cinema two weeks ago, but I returned from holiday on Friday 13th, just on the cusp of the COVID-19 crisis, and sticking around in a central London cinema didn’t seem particularly sensible, and would increasingly seem less so up until the point cinemas closed a few days later. Well, it’s on Mubi now, where everyone can watch it — and I might add, without wishing to become some kind of sponsored content, that for UK viewers they currently have a deal to get three months for £1 so you have no excuse if you want to see this and some of the other films I’ve written about (there are also seasons dedicated to Jean-Pierre Melville, Park Chan-wook, Jean-Luc Godard, not to mention new films by filmmakers I don’t know yet but soon will). Mendonça Filho’s debut film Neighbouring Sounds, the one he made before Aquarius, is also there, and I feel like that’ll be another one I’ll check out soon.


There is no shortage of art dealing with the sometimes brutal intersection between the fast pace of modernity and traditional communities usually left unsupported by government and big business. In a sense, that’s what this film is dealing with, using a sort of generic template that traces its lineage back to The Most Dangerous Game or alternatively to 60s acid westerns (there is some ingestion of psychotropic drugs towards the end, but it’s not filmed in a trippy way). The first half of the film is about the little titular village in the outback of Brazil, tracing the family dynamics and the local life, which has been upturned by the death of one of its elder citizens. Right from the start there are these little clues towards the upheavals to come, such as the way the town has disappeared from Google maps, and the arrival of a mayoral candidate from a (disliked) local town sparks the ire of the locals, who are very efficient at hiding themselves away in a hurry (this becomes a plot point later on). Thus when Udo Kier and his gang of ne’er-do-wells arrives on the scene, we’re primed for something odd to happen and things slide downhill pretty quick, as the body count racks up. It’s brutal and gory in its way, but it’s also a film that’s angry about governments and about technology and about Western capitalism and probably also pretty angry about Bolsonaro and his ilk. And it’s an anger that will probably percolate for a while through the cinema of many nations now finding themselves perched precariously on the edge of this kind of rapacious economic system.

Bacurau film posterCREDITS
Directors/Writers Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles; Cinematographer Pedro Sotero; Starring Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Udo Kier, Sônia Braga; Length 132 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Thursday 26 March 2020.

Criterion Sunday 28: Blood for Dracula (1974)

Of the two roughly-matched Paul Morrissey Euro-horror films starring Udo Kier and Joe Dallesandro (this and Flesh for Frankenstein), I think I slightly prefer this one, dealing with the Dracula story. Kier, of course, is the titular count, and Dallesandro is Mario, a peasant with socialist principles who works for an aristocratic Italian family. The increasingly sickly Count has come to Italy to seek virgins to replenish his blood, and happens upon the di Fiore family with their four daughters. Of course, despite the protestations of the mother (a delightful Maxime McKendry), it turns out that at least two of them are no longer so thanks to Mario’s charms, and so Dracula finds himself increasingly unsatisfied. Given the provenance and the largely Italian cast (including the family patriarch played by neorealist director Vittorio de Sica), there’s a sort of campy charm that suffuses the whole enterprise with a faint aura of ridiculousness. Kier remains a superbly haughty villain, seeming to channel Gary Numan in his gothic vampiness, while there’s a cameo appearance by Roman Polanski in a tavern scene. Some of the sexual politics are deeply dubious (Mario’s relationship with the youngest daughter is particularly problematic), though given the care Morrissey has taken with the adaptation of both films, one could certainly see this as a critique of certain underpinnings of the original story — though this hardly makes such elements any the more pleasant to watch. However, for those who are well-versed in the Dracula mythos, this certainly does provide an interesting take on it.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Paul Morrissey; Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller; Starring Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Maxime de la Falaise [as “Maxime McKendry”]; Length 103 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 15 March 2015.

Criterion Sunday 27: Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, 1973)

The Criterion Collection may be a boutique label founded on presenting pristine prints of the classics of world cinema, but it’s also happy to take detours down roads less travelled, and in some ways those can be the most rewarding films. This 1974 camp Euro horror-exploitation film, made in Italy with a northern European cast, seems to embody few of the qualities you’d expect this label to trade in, and yet it’s a little bit more than just an excuse for lots of gore. Though there is, as it happens, lots of gore, as Doctor Frankenstein (an angular Udo Kier) experiments with stitching together his zombie-like creatures. When he decides he needs someone particularly virile, it so happens that oversexed stableboy Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) is about and would fit the bill precisely, except that due to a confusion, Frankenstein and his assistant Otto grab Nicholas’s sexless friend Sacha instead. The US title is a bit misleading, for though director Paul Morrissey did work with Andy Warhol in the 1960s (notably on The Chelsea Girls), Warhol’s involvement by this point was little more than just marketing. Flesh for Frankenstein (along with next week’s film Blood for Dracula) were Morrissey productions through and through, and betray his interest in messing around with these determinedly European legends. Thus the reimagining here reflects somewhat on contemporary counter-cultural movements, though it would have helped if Dallesandro had the acting chops that Kier exhibits, and his European peasant is somewhat difficult to take.

Criterion Extras: Aside from the brief essay inside the booklet, there are two significant extras here: a photo gallery, which is just an 18 minute video with a musical backing, not an ideal way to see the photos; and a commentary track, mostly critic Maurice Yacowar talking about the film, as well as some additional words from director Paul Morrissey and lead actor Udo Kier.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Paul Morrissey; Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller; Starring Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Monique van Vooren; Length 95 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 15 March 2015.