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CANNES 2019 Competition

Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles • Directors of Bacurau

“We wanted to make a kick-ass western adventure”


- CANNES 2019: Cineuropa met up with Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, the directors of Bacurau, a film that defies any easy categorisation

Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles  • Directors of Bacurau
(© Victor Juca)

Co-directed by Aquarius [+see also:
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Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, the Udo Kier-starrer Bacurau [+see also:
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interview: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juli…
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, set in the near future, blew the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition wide open with its mixture of satire, references to old westerns and violence, erupting shortly after a group of people discover that their small town has vanished from the map. Not to mention the odd flying saucer.

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Cineuropa: During our interview in 2016, you already mentioned that your next film would be called Bacurau, which is slang for the last bus you can catch at night.
Kleber Mendonça Filho:
Years before Uber, you would try to catch it, and if you didn’t succeed, you would have to sleep at a friend’s house or in a park. In the early versions of the script, there was a sequence showing our character Teresa [played by Barbara Colen] running to catch this bus, but we didn’t keep it in. Then, of course, it’s also a bird, always hiding and coming out only at night – very much like this small community, always wary of strangers.

After the premiere, many kept noticing references to the current situation in Brazil. But wasn’t it already in the works before Aquarius?
We had been working on it for almost ten years. We finished the shoot this week last year, and this week last year, Bolsonaro was not even a possibility. I guess it’s unavoidable that Brazil and its tensions will find their way in, but we wanted to make a kick-ass western adventure, about power, the friendship we have and our shared love for movies. We read an article about soldiers in Afghanistan who started to compete, seeing how many people they could kill. It’s the kind of atrocity that keeps coming back, but we specifically wrote the script to never give any extra information, just hints of what could be happening. In the 1980s, and even later, there were planes full of tourists coming to Brazilian coastal towns to be with very young girls. You could see it happening, right in broad daylight. I am not saying it inspired the film, but it stems from similar experiences.

Juliano Dornelles: People seem to forget that it takes time to make films. How were we supposed to predict the future? We are friends, and we have been working together for years; I have been a production designer on his films, and he produced my short. This whole co-directing thing happened because of a conversation we had. We wanted to represent people who come from our region.

KMF: We come from the northeast of Brazil, and there is a huge cultural and social divide, especially when it comes to the south, where all the money is. This means that throughout our lives, we have had to face some very interesting moments of prejudice. I used to be a film critic, just like you, and I still remember the time I went to Rio to do the junket for The Prince of Egypt.

JD: I have heard this a thousand times.

KMF: It’s a good story! There were all of these press people from São Paulo, and after I introduced myself, one of them went: “So will you need a translator? No? Do people from the northeast actually speak English?” Later she apologised, but our film is also about that. Even now, intelligent people I know and like ask us: “So, what's it like to make a film about the northeast?” We are from the northeast! It’s like asking a gay filmmaker what it’s like to be gay.

There are so many movie references in your film. What was especially on your mind?
I can never escape John Carpenter, whatever I make. On the day of the screening, we actually got to see him on stage [Carpenter was the recipient of the Golden Coach]. Compañeros by Sergio Corbucci was also very important. We liked it because, unlike some American westerns, it was dirty and rough, with everybody behaving badly.

JD: Whenever we would get stuck, we would just watch a film. One thing I liked was this idea of showing white people the way the Indians used to be portrayed. But even with the invaders, we don’t show them from afar. We come up close with the camera and listen to what they have to say.

KMF: Culturally speaking, we were taught by American cinema that heroes are always white. They were shown as such, even though their actions weren’t very heroic. You just have these preconceived notions. Which is why I wonder how this film would be received in, say, Washington, because it’s all a question of representation. I love that it’s set in the near future, though. I think it’s charming [laughs].

No wonder Udo Kier, despite having just made Iron Sky 2 [+see also:
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, implied that your film is even more peculiar.
Oh Udo, Udo. He is quite a character.

KMF: I am so moved by his performance in the film. I met him in Palm Springs, where he actually lives. Somebody asked me: “Would you like to meet Udo Kier? He is right there.” He had a purple suit on, turned around and said: “I was never Fassbinder’s lover!” Strangest introduction I have ever seen.

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