Things can take a while to filter through. The first I heard of Gabriel Mascaro was a matter of weeks ago when the Brit Blu-ray of his 2017 film Neon Bull came in via the post. A friend had sent it on. I watched it only on the same day as I had a booking for Mascaro’s latest Divine Love at the Sydney Film Festival. Which leaves just his 2014 August Winds to go to get up to speed with his dramatic features. You can see that one on YouTube but regrettably without any English subtitles.
Neon Bull was shown at the 2016 SFF. It came laden with prizes, most particularly from Venice but in Sydney, where each film gets a hundred words in a butcher paper catalogue, it was seemingly just another movie among a couple of hundred and was not selected for the prestigious competition and thus not selected to play to the subscription crowd in the State. It may have drawn a crowd or it may have drawn the hundred or so who packed into Event 4 for its director's successor Divine Love. It doesn't seem to have attracted any notice back then and presumably wasn’t seen by any of the Film Alert 101 mavens who otherwise reviewed. It was mentioned in the Senses of Cinema report on MIFF 2016 ("languorous pace and Apitchatpong Weerasethakul-approved cinematographer (Diego García)) but that seemingly was it.
Where is this leading? Well Mascaro seems to be a major new figure and Neon Bullin particular a very significant film. At a relatively young age he has three features under his belt, two of which seem to me to be quite something in their bold subject and uninhibited filming.
Neon Bull has lots of enigma in the introduction. The opening features a woman in a skimpy costume wearing a horse’s head. She goes into a dance but there’s no context. Gradually we learn that the group of characters we’re following, not really a family, make their living by working at a rodeo which seems to tour to small towns. The characters - a few men, a woman who drives the truck carrying the bulls that are the feature event of the rodeo action, and the woman’s early teen daughter live and sleep rough a lot of the time. The lead male Iremar however has an interesting trope. He designs and sews female costumes, very skimpy, and we eventually learn that his costumes are those worn by the truck driver Galega when she does a sideshow dance in a tent with the horse’s head.
Casual sex eventually rears – the woman takes a fancy to a new young worker who replaces one of the team. The scene where she prepares herself for the anticipated evening sex is, possibly unique but I am not encyclopaedic on the subject. Iremar sets his sights on a heavily pregnant female security guard whom he encounters when she wanders through the rodeo trying to sell perfume. The single take sex scene that follows is also unique. Then the quotidian life of this tiny sector of the Brazilian underclass resumes and the film ends. Quite something.
Divine Love is more ambitious and more hazardous. We are into a vaguely dystopian future, still set explicitly in Brazil, where a new modern church offers drive-in consultations, couples in the congregation have group sex and swap partners according to instruction. One of the church members Joana has a job processing divorces but her real task is to try and talk the couples out of it. It’s a world where people walk through metal barriers and a computer checks out their status. The computer can tell if a woman is pregnant and by quick DNA analysis who the father is.
There the consternation ratchets up because after some explicit sex scenes Joana discovers she is pregnant but the computer cant identify the father. The husband is not happy because they have been trying to have a child for some time. Slowly, hang on, we are into virgin birth territory, a threat to all stability and righteousness. It’s a funny take on the modern and presumably there’s more Brazilian politics in this than meet’s the outsider’s eye.
With Mascaro and with Kleber Mendonça Filho and maybe even Wagner Moura Brazil is suddenly supplying some ferocious stuff and it’s coming just as the Brazilians have elected a Trumpista President with yet another ratbag agenda of racism, guns and crackdowns on the poor. Look out Bolsonaro the movie men may be coming for you.