About Bacurau

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Ricardo Musse*

Bacurau's artistic, intellectual and political strength is based on its metaphors. Complex constructions instill in the viewer the desire to decipher them. Inserted in a fragmentary composition, they stimulate allegorical reading, engendering polysemic forms of perception and understanding.


Bacurau is a town located in the extreme west of Pernambuco. The mere geographical indication guides the reception towards analogies and allegories referenced in the mythical hinterland. It refers to that vast and indeterminate territory figured, among others, by Euclides da Cunha, Guimarães Rosa, Glauber Rocha, by Cinema Novo and by recent films produced in the Northeast.

The first part of the film is organized as an exposition of the social and everyday life of Bacurau. It combines the construction of characters, conceived at the same time as singularities and as types or emblems, with the description of their functions and roles, illuminating the local division of social work, following a recurrent technique in documentary cinema. Some of them, however, like the caboclo Damiano (Carlos Francisco), are composed in the register of magical realism, filtered by the Brazilian literary and cinematographic tradition.

It is possible to identify there the new landscape of the Northeast, revamped by economic growth and social policies implemented from 2003 onwards, in a dialogue with images configured in films such as Suely's Sky e big jet. It is worth highlighting the common concern to show, alongside the ties of neighborhood and kinship, the dialectic connection between the local and the global, increased by migratory flows and the dissemination of information technologies.

The social life and everyday life of Bacurau also refer, to a certain extent, to the world of communities (once designated by the term “favela”) omnipresent in the big Brazilian cities, to the duality between the efforts in favor of education, health and pacification carried out forward by community leaders, in tacit agreement or in conflict with the individuals who control, through the exercise of violence, the territory abandoned by the State. In the realm of the cultural industry, the “celebrities” associated with Bacurau – with notoriety equivalent to that of the drug lords in the hills of Rio de Janeiro – are the characters Package (Thomas Aquino), the hired killer, and Lunga (Silvero Pereira), the outlaw. .

Bacurau still embodies the utopia of a post-patriarchal society. The film presents a myriad of individual identities, behaviors and affective relationships that are alternative to those prevailing in the patriarchal world. The mainstay of unconventional experiences is reflexively presented by the characters themselves in the opening scenes: the magnet that configures the ways of life in the village is Carmelita (Lia de Itamaracá), archetype of matriarchy.


The second part of the film begins with a flock of horses. The unusual situation is not surprising, as the spectator's visual and artistic memory recognizes in the scene the indication that something strange is on the way, as is usual in the literature of José J. Veiga and Murilo Rubião, or in the imagination of western films. The threat effect, as in Júlio Cortázar's short stories, grows in continuous progression: the unexpected visit of two motorcyclists dressed as participants in a rally, the murder of the inhabitants of the farm and the emissaries sent there, the murder of a child.

The intense suspense that structures the narration in this part of the film soon ends. The camera, until then glued to the residents of Bacurau, shifts its perspective and changes location, starting to follow the outsiders.

It is a group of snipers Americans, gun collectors vintage, dressed as tourists on a safari and acting like participants in a reality show macabre. They are monitored by permanently connected headphones, from a remote control installed on a drone (whose contours resemble the flying saucers in B movies of the 1950s) that hears, sees and films everything. When they come into action, they move like video game figures, an analogy developed in Harun Farocki's films.

The motorcyclists are Brazilians, southerners, Judiciary officials, excited about the possibility of participating in the death squad. Measured through the eyes of white supremacists, however, they immediately become targets, in a rehearsal of the mass murder program.

The internet signal is blocked. Bacurau becomes invisible even to the Google satellite. It is impossible not to remember the airspace blockade (supposedly carried out by the FAB), the isolation to which the Jalapão region was subjected during the filming of a reality show North American. Organized like bandits, in the style of western movies, as occupation troops, the snipers, em Bacurau, they prepare the invasion, the siege and the final attack.

With this shot and reverse shot movement, the film adds other layers of meaning to the sertão metaphor. Under the threat of extermination, besieged by a foreign squad, Bacurau refers allegorically to the quilombos, to Canudos, to the anarcho-communist communes, to the outskirts of the big Brazilian cities, but also to a people, a region, a country under the of imperialism.


Given the disparity of forces, the massacre is foreseen, to be duly accompanied on the soundtrack by songs like “San Vicente” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VbLnJA0_8I) – “the hours were not counted / and what was black became dark / in the body and in the city / a taste of life and death / a taste of glass and cut”.

What is heard, however, at high volume, is “Requiem for Matraga” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOfpxgWFWYs) – “I came here just to say / no one should shut me up / if someone has to die / let it be for the better / so much life to live / so much life to end / with so much to do / with so much to save / You who didn't understand me/don't lose by waiting”.

At that moment, the reader of Guimarães Rosa is aware that Geraldo Vandré's composition was commissioned for Augusto Matraga, the movie buff who saw Roberto Santos' film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaBkPeJ2R_A) already anticipates how the plot will develop. But even the spectator devoid of this information realizes that the “time and turn” of resistance has arrived.

The question then arises: how can a village that seeks to cultivate non-violence and celebrate peaceful living respond to a threat of physical annihilation?

There is in Brazil a repertoire of popular resistance frozen in our historical memory and in the scarcely visited museum of Bacurau. Zumbi, the sertaneja fight portrayed in the third part of The Sertões, the Contestado War, Santa Dica, the feats of the cangaço, the saga of Corisco, the Peasant Leagues, Lamarca, Marighella, the anonymous heroes of everyday life, etc.

The composition of the character Lunga, the bandit with a bounty on his head banished from the community, who becomes the armed arm of Bacurau's resistance, is conceived as an update of Nhô Augusto, the anti-hero of The time and turn of Augusto Matraga. Like him, Lunga carries a reputation marked by transgressions of values ​​shared by common conscience and unconventional sexual conduct. Like Lunga too, before engaging in the struggle, he goes through a process of overcoming resentments, of mutual forgiveness between himself and the community. Following Nhô Augusto's tactics, the inhabitants of Bacurau manage to quell the attack, killing the invaders one by one.

In resorting to the historical imaginary as a fighting strategy, in rescuing the hopes of the past, Walter Benjamin's motto resounds – “the past carries with it a secret index that sends you to redemption”.


The film unfolds, in multiple determinations, the dialectic relationship inscribed in the visibility/invisibility duality.

“Bacurau” is the name of a silent bird that only flies at dusk; also designates the individual who has the habit of only going out at night; still calls, in Rio de Janeiro, the Afro-descendant and, in Pernambuco it is a variant, according to the Houaiss, of a charcoal pit, alluded to in the hole where Lunga's gang hides their weapons (and where the leader of the snipers will be buried alive). Four metaphors of invisibility.

When threatened, villagers turn invisible. They adopt this procedure to reject Tony Jr.'s demagogic promises and local bossiness. (Thardelly Lima), the mayor candidate for re-election, as the attack of the snipers North American. Deliberate isolation does not prevent Bacurau from becoming a visible target for voters and agents of violence.

Voluntary seclusion, the purpose of not letting oneself be known and maintaining one's own way of life, repeating the historical dilemma of the quilombos, proves to be insufficient to stop extermination practices. It is an allegory of the Brazilian civil war: invisible, since naturalized; and at the same time visible in the maximum degree, because, like the reality show of snipers, is broadcast daily live on TV.


Bacurau fits into the lineage of modern cinema. Self-reflexive, it operates with discontinuities and juxtapositions, a plurality of focuses and fields of visualization, fragments and the intention of allegorical totalization. In the lineage inaugurated by Jean-Luc Godard, it explores forms of intertextuality, the intense use of quotations and collages that mix repertoires of autonomous art and the cultural industry, of erudite culture and the universe of pop, avant-garde and genre cinema. In this process, it makes explicit, at each moment, its formal rules, the material, the techniques of representation and its aesthetic and cultural program.

The film begins with a camera movement that departs from outer space, crosses an artificial satellite and stops in a water truck, traveling on a bumpy road to the sound of the song “Non-identified”, by Caetano Veloso, in the voice of Gal Gosto (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6khZzKCSomE): “I'm going to write a song for her / A simple, Brazilian song / To be released after Carnival / I'm going to write a romantic iê-iê-iê / A sentimental anti-computer / I'm going to write a love song / To record on a disc flying/… My passion will shine in the night/ In the sky of a country town”.

The directors (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles) share with musical tropicalismo the attention to a series of dualities, unfolded from the national/foreign and local/global pairs. They are equally suspicious of the effectiveness of artisanal art as a barrier to contain the uncontrolled expansion of the cultural industry. Recognizing that, in late capitalism, artistic products also assume the form of merchandise, they seek ways of reflected insertion in the cultural market.

They combine adhesion and criticism to the current artistic codes, seeking, through a plethora of procedures (among which irony and parody stand out), to subvert the content of representations of the cultural industry. They yearn to be popular enough to shine at night, in the skies of inland villages.

Bacurau it is closer, however, to the tropicalist phase of Cinema Novo (on this period cf. Ismail Xavier, Allegories of underdevelopment). There, next to Macunaima quality The Dragon of Evil against the Holy Warrior/Antonio das Mortes, pontificate Brazil Year 2000, a work that contains the song “No-identified” in its soundtrack.

The film by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles resumes, after its incorporation into the culture of the 1960s, the Anthropophagous Manifesto, proposed by Oswald de Andrade in 1928. The object of swallowing today is more indigestible than before – a cinema that assimilated and neutralized the techniques of the avant-garde, which incorporated the parodic verve and smoked in simulacra. Despite the transformations of art and advertising, Bacurau continues to bet on updating Anthropophagy procedures as a resource at the service of the dominated, in their fight against the imperatives of the financialized cultural system.

The information technologies developed abroad, in Bacurau, are absorbed and remodeled in their uses by the filter of the local culture. Technical advances thus become, whether in the narrated story or in the internal arrangement of the film, weapons of resistance. Through this quid pro quo, the directors propose a return to the ideal of a national culture, an unfinished project that animated the decisive moments of Brazilian cinema (cf. Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes, Cinema: trajectory in underdevelopment).

Bacurau stands and can be seen, therefore, as a new link in a tradition that had an inflection and its high point in the “new cinemas” of the 1960s. It rescues the then-current alliance between Brazilian and European artists and producers, whose reach was accurately described by Guy Hennebelle and summarized in the title of his book: National cinemas against Hollywood.

*Ricardo Musse He is a professor in the Department of Sociology at USP


Bacurau (Brazil/France, 2019). Directed by: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. Screenplay: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. Cast: Silvero Pereira (Lunga), Thomas Aquino (Pacote/Acácio), Lia de Itamaracá (Carmelita), Sonia Braga (Domingas), Bárbara Colen (Teresa), Thardelly Lima (Tony Jr.), Carlos Francisco (Damiano), Rubens Santos (Erivaldo), Wilson Rabelo (Pliny), Udo Kier (Michael).

Sue's Heaven (Brazil/Germany/France, 2006). Direction: Karim Ainouz. Screenplay: Karim Ainouz, Mauricio Zacharias and Felipe Braganca. Cast: Hermila Guedes, Georgina Castro, Maria Menezes, João Miguel, Zezita Matos, Matthew Alves, Gerkson Carlos, Marcelia Cartaxo, Flavio Bauraqui.

big jet (Brazil, 2015). Directed by: Cláudio Assis. Screenplay: Xico Sá. Cast: Matheus Nachtergaele, Gabrielle Lopez, Marcela Cartaxo, Rafael Nicário, Jards Macalé, Pally Siqueira.

José J. Veiga. The time of the ruminants (1966). São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2015.

Murilo Rubião. Complete work. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2010.

Julio Cortazar. House taken. In: bestiary. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 2013.

Euclides da Cunha. The Sertões. Critical editing and organization by Walnice Nogueira Galvão. São Paulo,Ubu/Sesc, 2016.

Joao Guimaraes Rosa. The time and turn of Augusto Matraga. In: sagarana. Rio de Janeiro, New Frontier, 2017.

Walter Benjamin. About the concept of the story. In: The Angel of History. Belo Horizonte, Authentic, 2012.

Ismail Xavier, Allegories of underdevelopment: new cinema, tropicalism, marginal cinema. São Paulo, Cosac & Naify, 2012.

Oswald de Andrade. Anthropophagous Manifesto. In: the anthropophagic utopia. Sao Paulo, Globo, 1990.

Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes, Cinema: trajectory in underdevelopment. São Paulo, Peace and Land, 1986.

Guy Hennebelle. National cinemas against Hollywood. São Paulo, Peace and Land, 1978.

See this link for all articles