Troubled Brazil 'feels like a dystopia', top director tells Cannes

Cannes (France) (AFP) –


Life in Brazil under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro feels like a "dystopia", top Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho said Thursday after his dark, satirical Western "Bacurau" premiered at Cannes.

Set a few years in the future and shot in an impoverished, isolated area of northeastern Brazil, the film tells the story of a village upended by the death of its 94-year-old matriarch which ends up becoming the target of white supremacist hunters.

Mendonca's third feature, which was co-directed by Juliano Dornelles and is running for the coveted Palme d'Or, is a reflection of Brazil's struggles under Bolsonaro, who is fighting an ultra-conservative ideological battle that has seen him overseeing a crackdown on the film industry.

"It's tough. Brazil right now does feel like dystopia in many, many everyday aspects," Mendonca told a press conference.

"If you look at the world today, it does feel like the kind of thing you would see in a film in the 1980s or the 1970s, or some science fiction novel from the '60s."

When they began writing the script that details a bloody standoff between the villagers and the wealthy foreigners who have come to hunt them for sport, Donald Trump hadn't yet been elected and Bolsonaro wasn't even a remote prospect for the Brazilian leadership.

But things evolved rapidly.

"It was almost like reality was catching up with the script, and when that happened, we went over the top," Mendonca said.

"I don't think the film is an accurate scientific projection of where things will go but we do work with certain themes, and certain atmospheres (within) society."

- 'This is how we fight' -

The film's opening in Cannes coincided with a wave of mass demonstrations back home against education cuts by Bolsonaro's government, which brought more than 100,000 protesters onto the streets.

Both Mendonca and co-director Dornelles threw their weight behind the protests, sparked by Bolsonaro's bid to purge the country of what he has called "cultural Marxism", be it in classrooms or the cinema.

"The film was screened at a time when there's this whole idea of destroying culture in Brazil, and the arts in general," he said. "It's so amazing to have a film at the Cannes film festival at the time when they're trying to actually hide everything we do."

Thomas Aquino, one of the actors in a cast also including Sonia Braga, agreed that the film was their strongest way to protest.

"We used the movie as our weapon. This is our answer, this is how we protest," he said.

"It's all from the heart. That's our gun, that's how we fight -- with this kind of dedication."

- Funding demand -

Mendonca also said the former Brazilian government had made an "unprecedented" demand for the return of funding for his first feature film "Neighbouring Sounds", an arthouse hit that focuses on social tensions in the city of Recife that was released in 2012 to acclaim in Brazil and abroad.

"This time last year, we got a notification from the ministry of culture... telling us to return all the money we invested in 'Neighbouring Sounds'," he said.

"No film has ever had to return money like that with adjustment for inflation, particularly for a film that was delivered and that became a reference for Brazilian cinema in Brazil and internationally," he said, adding that the matter was being handled by lawyers.

"We hope to overturn it because it makes no sense whatsoever."