Directed by Gabriel Mascaro
Country: Brazil / other
Gabriel Mascaro’s unadorned sophomore feature, “Neon Bull”, brings to the big screen the lives of a few individuals connected to the Vaquejada, the typical rodeo of the Northeast Brazil.
Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is an experienced bull handler who prepares the opulent white animals before being released in an arena where two men on horseback will persecute and throw them on the ground with a violent tail tug. This is what he does to make a living, but his real dream is to become a fashion designer. In his spare time, he goes to swampy fields where he collects pieces of broken mannequins and other discarded props that he uses to feed his fashion fantasy.
Usually, he has the company of Cacá (Alyne Santana), a sharp-tongued adolescent girl who love horses and whose mother, a dancer named Galega (Maeve Jinkings), is also the driver of the truck that transports the bulls and serves as their improvised home. Iremar and his funny assistant, Zé (Carlos Pessoa), also live in the truck.
The men have such a great relationship that they share a porn magazine, which has two functions: Zé uses to masturbate while Iremar uses what’s left of it to design his clothing models on top of the naked girls.
Despite these curious behaviors, everyone shows respect for one another, even if it’s discernible some tension in the way they talk, which happens to be more a natural thing than a confrontation. Many of these verbal tensions come from Cacá’s stubbornness and wry commentaries that leave her mother and the men frequently out of their minds.
Even occasionally infusing a spontaneous humor, “Neon Bull” is a tough watch due to the constant violence that takes both the physical and emotional forms. This factor is counterpointed by explicit images of intense sexual pleasure, when Galega accepts a newly arrived attractive cowboy named Junior (Vinícius de Oliveira, the kid from “Central Station”) as her sexual partner, and when Iremar becomes physically attracted to a pregnant woman, Geise (Samya De Lavor), a perfume seller during the day and a security guard at a knitting factory during the night.
All these dualisms - violence and pleasure, ugly and beautiful, hostile and respectful, reality and dream - make “Neon Bull” such a powerful drama, enhanced by a confident structure and fabulous acting from the cast of professional and non-professional actors.
Mr. Mascaro, even bolder than in his debut feature, “August Winds”, doesn’t refrain from showing whatever he has to, good or bad, to guarantee that the characters’ painful reality is passed to the viewers. The images captured by the cinematographer Diego Garcia are fiercely expressive, showing a mix of compositions that keep alternating between atrocious, brisk, laid-back, and carnal. Some of them can be pretty disturbing with its intensity and rawness, being so hard to digest but also to forget.
The movie’s less positive aspect has to do with a couple of scenes attempting to shock in too obvious ways. Still, this transient quibble doesn’t remove the power of the tale.
Mr. Mascaro, with his very personal vision, didn’t take the bull by the tail but rather by the horns.