Light (in its beauty and harshness) and saudade–a feeling that’s more than simple longing, nostalgia–permeate director and writer Gabriel Mascaro’s hypnotic second feature, “Neon Bull (Boi Neon).”
A makeshift family, its origin unspecified, works together to transport a herd of white bulls to the vaquejadas, a traveling rodeo in Brazil’s northeast. Iremar (Juliano Cazarré), a tough and handsome cowhand, and the comically round Zé (Carlos Pessoa), feed, clean up after, and prep the bulls (rubbing chalk into their tails) before each is launched into the arena, where two men on galloping horses try to topple the animal by ferociously pulling down on its tail.
Galega (Maeve Jinkings), casually sexy in shorts and t-shirts, drives the large truck, which doubles as their sleeping quarters when the almost magical looking animals are corralled at that day’s venue. Cacá (Aline Santana), Galega’s active young daughter often proclaims her preference for horses over bulls, plays with a glowing plastic Pegasus, and misses her absentee father.
Their days have a familiar pattern. But the region, long dismissed as arid and it inhabitants derided for being poor and uneducated, is changing, development bringing textile and garment factories and malls (an ad for one includes #city of fashion), fueling Iremar’s dream of designing glamorous women’s clothing.
Mascaro, who lives in Recife, the northeast city where he was born, says, that in the character of Iremar, he combined aspects of the area’s longtime livestock and agricultural activities with those of the industry that’s becoming part of its future. “He accumulates roles that combine force and delicacy, bravura and sensitive, violence and endearment.”
In a spectacular image (the film’s DP, Diego Garcia, also shot Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s recent “Cemetery of Splendor”), Iremar is seen in a long shot/long take, walking on caked mud, scavenging discarded bits of brightly colored fabric and mannequin parts. Sketching his ideas on the women in skin magazines, Iremar then uses his small sewing machine to create exotic costumes for Galega, who moonlights as a stripper. The work lives they desire and the one they have and need, are, at least temporarily, in balance.
The poster for Mascaro’s first fiction feature, “August Winds (Ventos de Agosto)”–which I’ve yet to see–is uncommonly beautiful and evocative. He said he shot it after completing his film, at a coconut farm, and that his actors are actually lying on the coconuts.
“Neon Bull,” which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2015 Venice Film Festival, will open on Friday, April 8 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and will expand nationally in coming weeks. A Q&A with Gabriel Mascaro and Maeve Jinkings will follow the April 8, 6:30 pm show and they will intro the 9:15 pm show. A retrospective of his previous work, “Gabriel Mascaro: Ebbs and Flows” opens at Film Society on Friday, April 15 and runs through Thursday, April 21.
Also opening tomorrow (at the IFC Center): “11 Minutes,” directed by Jerzy Skolimowski and “The Invitation,” directed by Karyn Kusama, are very different films but both are super stylish thrillers, with astonishing, horrifying endings. Make it a double feature.