NEON BULL, drama, not rated, in Portuguese with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles
Neon Bull is set against the backdrop of the vaquejada, an exhibition sport in which cowboys (vaqueiros) on horseback attempt to pull bulls to the ground by their tails. This sensuous mood piece is the Brazilian equivalent of a film by Wong Kar-wai. In the same way that the Hong Kong filmmaker employs local touches, such as steaming bowls of noodles to evoke romance in movies like In the Mood for Love, writer-director Gabriel Mascaro uses the dirt kicked up by bulls and, say, a character napping in a worn hammock to suffuse this film with imagery of dreams and longing. Cinematographer Diego García has chosen mauves, tans, and off-whites to indelibly conjure up the rodeo circuit and the characters — and bulls — who populate it. A bull handler, Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is really a costume designer at heart. He travels from rodeo to rodeo along with the troupe’s truck driver Galega (Maeve Jinkings), who is also an exotic dancer, and her tween daughter, Cacá (Alyne Santana). The film doesn’t have a defined storyline; instead, it moves from one situation to the next — one episode involves a horse’s bodily fluids — while we follow the everyday lives of the characters. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, where it won a Special Orizzonti Jury Prize. This is the second feature by Mascaro, whose video installations have screened at museums including New York’s Guggenheim.
Galega drives Iremar and his co-workers, including the bulls, from one gig to the next, and they share the camaraderie of a theater troupe. There is a lot of riffing along the way — is donkey milk fit for drinking? — with heavy-set bull wrangler Zé (Carlos Pessoa) as a comic trigger. Mascaro uses the setup of humans and animals living in close quarters to bring out the similarities between the two — we can all but smell the human sweat and the horse manure. Occasionally, a character falls face-down into animal fluids. This film is a worthwhile counterpoint to the highly sanitized existence so many of us lead. The jokes and some of the bizarre situations that follow are not for the faint of heart. One imagines that Ernest Hemingway, who wrote about bullfighting in Death in the Afternoon, would follow Iremar’s adventures with something approaching glee. Cacá loves horses, not bulls. One day, Galega tells Iremar that Cacá will probably never be able to afford a horse. Iremar says she should not make that assumption.The most quietly poignant moments in this unsentimental film are the exchanges between Iremar and Cacá. In one scene, while Iremar uses a saw to design an exotic costume, Cacá asks if he thinks her father will ever come back. We are never told why he has left. Iremar encourages the girl to go in search of him. Either Cacá is moved by the blunt advice or she simply misses her father so much that she asks Iremar to give her a hug. While Iremar is an unusual father substitute for Cacá, his creative and audacious dreams lift this earthy film into a more poetic realm.
Sentimental bull: Juliano Cazarré