Movie Review: NEON BULL (Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands 2015)

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neonbull.jpgNEON BULL (Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands 2015) ***
Directed by Gabriel Mascaro

Starring: Juliano Cazarré, Maeve Jinkings, Josinaldo Alves

Review by Gilbert Seah

NEON BULL tells the story, set in a Brazilian rodeo setting, of Iremar (Juliano Cazarre) and his immediate family, all living at the edge of poverty. The family consists of his girlfriend an exotic dancer (Maeve Jinkings) and her daughter Caca (Aline Santana). Iremar works at a rodeo called the ‘Vaquejadas’ in the north east of Brazil. In the rodeo, two men on horseback bring down a bull by its tail (which is sanded for grip) within a time limit. There is no story but the film’s purpose is to show what life is like for them. The film works around Iremar’s immediate family and work while focusing on his desire to get out of the bull business as it is difficult hard-breaking work. Iremar’s passion, believe it or not is designing skimpy women’s clothes.

Mascaro uses dramatic set-ups to tell his story. The segment in which the little girl Caca asks Iremar, the mother’s befriend out of the blue for a hug shows the closeness between the two that is missing between her and her real mother. On the other hand, the mother slapping Caca in another scene demonstrates the mother just tolerating her most of the time. These often isolated segments do not help smooth the flow of the story telling, which feels choppy at times. The dramatic contents of the film, however, are strong.

Mascaro loves to focus his camera on images of bodies be it humans, even on co-worker Ze’s (Carlos Pessoa) pot-belly and his protruding belly button or on the almost perfect contours of the white bulls in the rodeo. It seems natural then, that his protagonist has the ambition to design fashion outfit as an alternative source of income.

The film’s cinematography by Diego Garcia is detailed enough to observe dust in the wind. His fond of use of shadows is apparent in the many night scenes. There is much to enjoy in the lighting department as well, as evident in a scene which is lit up by the needle of a sewing machine emphasizing Iremar’s dedication to his design work.

NEON BULL has the mixed feel of art and biopic. The slowness of pace and the often lingering of the camera with the explicit use of colours (the white bulls, the neon lights, the colours of posters) are the realistic dirty look of poverty of the subjects.

The climax of the film is where everything comes together – filmmaking-wise. It is a sex scene, very graphically explicit, shot in the night with shadows and minimal lighting with selected musical scoring. The sex is very erotic and different, between Iremar and his cosmetics saleslady who happens to be pregnant. It is not a scene for everybody, riding from behind, but tastefully done, arguably.

If the visual and dramatic setups are tied in with a stronger film narrative, NEON BULL would emerge a more focused film and even one that could contain a message of survival and maybe the mistreatment of animals. Shot in Portuguese.

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