'Bacurau' shines spotlight on a feverish Brazil at Cannes

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Set in the scorching outback of northern Brazil in a small, cut-off town suffering from water shortages, “Bacurau”, a contender for the top film prize at Cannes, is not short of digs at the state of local politics.

But the trippy romp is also a darkly comic tale of resistance against blood-thirsty U.S. invaders, interspersed with sci-fi worthy riffs about drone-wielding killers.

It’s equally, as described by IndieWire critic David Ehrlich, “a wonderful and demented Western about the perils of rampant modernization”.

Like the inhabitants of fictional Bacurau, occasionally seen popping mysterious hallucinogenic pills, viewers are invited to give in to the mash-up, in a movie where some clues are deliberately withheld.

“We actually liked the idea of giving people ‘X’ information ... and that you have to work with that information,” director Kleber Mendonca Filho told a news conference on Thursday, asked how to explain the motivations of the film’s human-hunting troupe of killers.

References to Brazilian politics are inevitable, even beyond the twists in the plot line, which include a sleazy mayor trying to buy votes with out-of-date medication.

Mendonca Filho, who was last in Cannes in 2016 with “Aquarius” and paired for this film with co-director Juliano Dornelles, said he was delighted the movie was even selected to compete at a tough time for Brazil’s film industry.

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Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, facing protests this week after announcing education spending freezes, has also said he would battle “cultural Marxism” and has reduced the remit of Brazil’s culture ministry.

“It is just amazing that this film is seeing the light of the day at a time when in fact they are trying to hide culture, Brazilian cultural output,” Mendonca Filho said.

The film kicks off on the road to Bacurau, littered with coffins that have fallen off a truck, before immersing spectators in a funeral dance celebrating the life of a local matriarch.

Soon things start getting even weirder in the dusty town, as mobile phone coverage disappears, Bacurau gets eclipsed from satellite maps, and the killing crew - largely made up of Americans but led by an eery German played by Udo Kier - make their appearance.

“It’s disturbing and messy, a fever dream for a disturbing and messy time in Brazil. And occasionally, it’s a lot of fun, too,” critic Steve Pond wrote for entertainment site The Wrap.

Reporting by Sarah White and Phyllis Xu; Editing by Hugh Lawson