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aka - Boi Neon
Brazil 2015
Directed by
Gabriel Mascaro
103 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Neon Bull

Synopsis: Iremar (Juliana Cazarre) works in the world of Brazilian rodeo, known as “vaqueadas”, in which two men on horseback try to bring down a bull by grabbing its tail. He travels from show to show in a makeshift home, a large truck, with the animals and his co-workers, Galega (Maeve Jinkings), who also performs exotic dance, her little daughter Caca (Aline Santana), and Ze (Carlos Pessoa), with whom he preps the bulls for the performance, by rubbing coarse sand into their tails. But Iremar has other dreams – to be a fashion designer, and when he meets perfume salesgirl Geise (Samya de Lavor), he just might have an opportunity.

This film won special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival last year, and was awarded best feature at the Adelaide Film Festival. That of course doesn’t make it a must-see, but Neon Bull is both weird and wonderfully original at the same time. From the get-go the audience is transported into an intriguing world, one carefully evoked by the glorious cinematography. Not a majestic beauty, but a strange beauty of place and lifestyle, that is almost defined by the bulls, statuesque white creatures with their dangling dewlaps and haunting eyes.

Director Gabriel Mascaro takes his time with every scene, using long languid shots evoking the smells, dirt and dust. But he also surprises us. After we have seen how Iremar and Ze spend their days, mucking out the truck, getting up close and personal with the bovines, we are then transported to a world where fabric and sequins replaces sweat as Iremar measures Galega up for her dance outfit which he is sewing. We then see Galega, dressed in her outfit, including horses head and hooves, performing her exotic dance, which is more bizarre than exotic, blending human and animal. Iremar is more than he seems. He works in the macho world of rodeo, but his dreams are elsewhere. When he finds a porno magazine that Ze has left about, he draws his designs onto the nude models.. These contradictions and paradoxes are deliberately conjured up by the director who has described it as “a study of the body, light and the transformation of the human landscape” as well as somewhat of a symbol for the changes taking place in this part of modern Brazil – changes in people’s identities, expectations and aspirations

The use of lighting is quite remarkable, especially in a later, fairly explicit, sex scene that will remain etched in your brain (have I piqued your interest?). But light also transforms what could be a grungy and daunting landscape and its inhabitants into something earthy and appealing. Earthiness and sensuality are entwined throughout the film with such challenging scenes as the men trying to steal a stud stallion’s sperm. Indeed, sexual energy is the film’s deepest undercurrent.

All this sits comfortably alongside the characters’ relationships with each other, binding them into a kind of warm and supportive family. Each one is essentially likeable and every performance is a winner, especially that of Aline Santana as the young girl growing up fast in this adult world yet retaining the need for comforting cuddles.

The good thing about this type of film-making is it gives you something to mull over afterwards – the images are so strong they stay with you with the final scene that is something which I, at least, have never seen on screen.  




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