Globetrotting through media.
Welcome to this month’s stop on our world tour! Take a break from post-election stress, sip your Cachaça and let’s dive right in. (Mild spoilers for Bacurau)
Taking place a few years into the future, Bacurau follows a remote village in North Brazil as they come under attack from a malicious outside force.
A core tenant of this film is its sense of community. Bacurau (the eponymous village) is a mishmash of different people, from young to old, queer and heterosexual, across various ethnic heritages. It feels like a microcosm of the plethora of heritages and identities that make up Brazil’s population. The writers/directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho give you time to take in the place and its people, from the school to the church, to their funeral traditions. The camera lingers and makes you feel all of the idiosyncrasies, organically learning through background details like the wreck of a police car riddled with bullet holes. You also learn about the past of this place and its people in the myths and whispers told through grainy YouTube videos, digital wanted posters and overexcited children.
Dornelles and Filho give you a rough idea of how Bacurau functions on the day-to-day, sharing resources depending on people’s need and resolving conflict without law enforcement (or any equivalent). The small society formed here is a pretty good model for what a communalist politic actually looks like in practice – even though those specific politics are never explicitly mentioned. This is a community which is mostly self-governing and self-reliant but doesn’t completely isolate itself. People can come and go as they please. They have leaders (in the broadest sense), but those figures don’t have hard power to force anyone to do something they don’t want to do. That horizontal power structure feels like it’s reflected in the filmmaking itself, because while Teresa (Bárbara Cohen) is clearly meant to be our perspective character in the opening, this very quickly becomes an ensemble piece with everyone playing their part (both as characters and performers). There are clear elements which distinguish this from the ideas of “community” that get cynically employed by conservatives. As I’ve mentioned before, the village is incredibly diverse and while there are evidently blood ties, there isn’t a fixation on “the nuclear family” as a socio-economic unit. Community and family, as established in this film, are loving fluid things that you choose and fight for.
As is probably clear, this set of values puts them directly in conflict with the powers-that-be. Capitalism can’t thrive when people are more focused on looking after their neighbor than competing with them. While a community such as Bacurau represents an ideological threat to any capitalist government, its important to put this in the context of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency. This is a man known for spouting violent misogyny and homophobia, he has also allowed and encouraged deforestation in the Amazon – often in the interests of multinational corporations and at the expense of small communities like the one this film focuses on, or various indigenous groups which don’t fit so easily into capitalist society. This international collaboration is reflected in Bacurau, attacks on the village come from a combination of local government and a group composed entirely of white people from the global North. Through analogy this film is able to capture the way that groups which challenge the status quo immediately come under attack from these neo-colonial forces. It’s also impossible to separate the attacks on communalist politic from queer acceptance and gender parity because all of these structural issues are intrinsically linked. When you allow for the existence of the subversive force of queerness (and other forms of aberrance), the status quo cannot hold. As Angela Davis put it: “I don’t think we would be where we are today – encouraging ever larger numbers of people to think within an abolitionist frame – had not the trans community taught us that it is possible to effectively challenge that which is considered the very foundation of our sense of normalcy.”
The key thing is that the people of Bacurau don’t just take this lying down. They fight back. This doesn’t come out of some sort of latent militaristic instinct or thirst for violence, in fact, they all have to take a psychoactive drug to even be able to cope with the prospect of killing people. Instead, the desire to fight comes from a place of love for people around them, for their home, for their community. I think that is what is crucial to learn here. If we want a better world there will be resistance. The system we live in with all its interlocking oppressions cannot abide by the existence of anything that cannot be consumed and colonized. So we have to be prepared to fight for what we want.
If there’s anything this year has shown us, it’s that the people around us matter. It won’t be a politician, or your favorite celebrity, or president that will save you from consequences of systems that they benefit from. Even the ones who genuinely want to help you are rarely in the position to do so. The people you can rely on will be your quiet neighbor, that busker who always makes you laugh, the sex worker who gives you a beaming smile in the dead of night, the loud kids that appear out of nowhere and seem to never run out of energy. As you watch the village’s funeral procession in Bacurau you feel that power brimming beneath the surface. It’s in every footstep. Every note of their song. A solemnity, a unity and a promise. A promise to the dead and the living to keep fighting, to hold onto each other and never let go.