Spoiler Alert. Be alert for spoilers. You’re welcome.
I imagine many of our readers will have seen (and probably loved) Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite… and it’s not often that I get to say that, with any degree of confidence, about an Academy Award winning film. If you did, then allow me to recommend, for your serious consideration, Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau (2019), which handles the same theme of struggling to get by on the sharp end of globalising neo-liberalism in a similarly devastating but contrastingly balls-to-the-wall style and which I recently caught due to the good offices of those splendid folks at Nottingham’s ever-wonderful Mayhem Festival.
Bong’s brilliant social satire jarringly juxtaposes two cliché takes on life in South Korea… the dispossessed dog eaters and the shiny happy people from the K-Pop videos (a third, that of staring down the barrel of nuclear annihilation, is briefly alluded to in the unlikely event that the viewer starts feeling too comfortable). Cracking performances from all concerned (what a missed opportunity, not to have nominated any of the cast for their own Oscars) and Bong’s assured direction and (with Jin Won Han) skilful screen-writing gloss over a couple of glaring plot improbabilities in the service of a beautiful narrative edifice which keeps us guessing as it shifts seamlessly back and forth between social comment, comedy, suspense, high farce, pathos, romance, eroticism and all-out Horror. Parasite also takes its time introducing us to and stoking our sympathy for the characters, ensuring that it really registers with us when the shit finally does hit that fan. Asian filmmakers have always seemed to grasp this principle more readily than their Anglo counterparts (I’m still recovering from what happened to that palpably nice guy in Takashi Miike’s Audition, 1999…)
Likewise, Bacurau takes its own sweet time familiaring us with the the odd conventions and even odder characters of its eponymous, isolated Brazilian village community. Initially disorientated, we come to feel at home with these incorrigible salts of the Earth, determinedly individualistic but inextricably bound by custom and community. Slimy mayoral candidate Tony Jr (Thardelly Lima) can’t buy their votes with his shoddy largesse or intimidate them by messing with their water supply… so what’s a corrupt politician to do? Simps. He deploys sophisticated satellite technolgy to wipe Bacurau off the face of the map before selling it and its inhabitants to insane white hunters who move in to do the job for real.
In contrast to the constant genre switch-hitting of Parasite, this is a prolonged, intense riff on Richard Connell’s oft-filmed yarn Hounds Of Zaroff / The Most Dangerous Game, factoring in a splash of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) when Pacote (Thomas Aquino) reconnects with and seeks the protection of his exiled gang banger mates, led by the fearsome Lunga (played by Silvero Pereira as a man on a dual mission to humble the aggressors and single-handedly drag the mullet back into fashion).
You can bet your bottom sheet of bog roll that Pasolini (the prophet of this whole consumer fascist groove thang), were he still alive, would want to have been cast in this epic of unalienated, authentic folk culture vs elitist savagery (he was great in Carlo Lizzani’s Kill And Pray, 1967). As it stands, the film benefits greatly from the charismatic contributions of Sonia Braga (on the side of the angels) and as Michael, leader of the killers, Udo Kier (now on the cusp of his eighth decade appearing in out there movies and still giving great face).
The hunters profess varying motivations… there’s the American prison guard who thinks he’s stamping out criminality, the white supremacist couple who think they’re defusing a demographic time-bomb, then there are unabashed thrill killers, like the guy who admits that he’s only come for the body count and Julia (Julia Marie Peterson) who just wants to shoot anything that moves (and looks insanely sexy while doing so).
Michael’s motivation is harder to figure and he’s ultimately buried beneath the weight of his own contradictions, not to mention the healing soil of Bacurau. By definition, it is suggested, the Sadean operating principle of “sworn to fun, loyal to none” cannot prevail against the inderdependant human values of community, though Michael sounds a stark warning just before he is interred forever in his bunker… “This is only the beginning!”
The gap between the two philosophies is so pronounced that the drone the hunters use to locate their victims and keep score (reducing the common people to disposable cyber sprites in some perverse video game) might as well be a flying saucer – which is exactly what it looks like – and in this particular clash of cultures, it’s not too hard for the viewer to pick sides. Michael and co are so outright atrocious that we have no qualms whatsoever cheering the villagers on as they righteously extract their brutal communal justice (Lunga’s line: “Did I go too far?” brought the house down when I saw the film). Time to check our own levels of bloodlust. Maybe if you dig deep enough, we’re not that far removed from Michael and co…