'Bacarau'- a haunting portent of the politics of the pandemic
Bacarau (2019), co-directed by Klebe Mendonca Filho and production designer Juliana Dornelles, is a dystopian-stroke wild-western film that left me deciphering scenes for countless days after. Multiple reviews of the film offered a direct reading of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right globalist regime to the violent politics of the film. And yet, Mendoca and Dornelles refute direct readings as they reveal that Bolsonaro wasn’t even in power when they started shooting. It is, however, a credit to the film to be able to capture degrees of politics that reverberate through time. What’s more, the politics of the film now feels like it portended the context of COVID-19, specifically its mis-management in Manaus, the capital of the Brazillian state of Amazonas.
Manaus is currently suffering from the foray incurred by Bolsonaro’s public health crisis, as infections proliferate whilst hospitals are left without even the most basic of supplies. I read in an article that Vinicius Lima, a young volunteer, described the horrific scenes as a ‘Dantesque situation...we feel like we’re living in a place with no government’. It was while reading these words that I started to replay Bacaura’s haunting tale.
Bacarau is set in a fictional town, somewhere in the north-east of Brazil, and the ensuring horror-like quality of the film is instigated by the town’s people realisation that they have been cut off the grid - the town no longer appears on any satellite maps. It is this brutal severration which allows the small town to descend into a game-model warzone as North American and European tourists seek to violently eliminate the townsfolk for no particular reason bar sadistic pleasure. The true source to this blood splattering violence remains anonymous, and we never quite find out who is calling the shots as the team of tourists are ordered to aslo turn on each other. Poignantly, the invisible enemy is embodied in the combination of the North American/European invading tourists, just like Manau’s horror film was incubated in a traveller from the U.K on 13th March last year. Although yes, I am perhaps making a crude comparison to the transmission of covid-19 in Manau to the western invaders in the film, I am much more interested by the unsourced violence in the film - who is controlling the invaders?
In the GOVID-19 pandemic,the violence of death continues in Manaus and on our own shores as the staggering reductive statistic of 135,613 fails to account for each life lost. Manaus’ daily average for burials In January reached 185 a week - six times higher than the pre-pandemic level.
Whilst our government rendered our invisible source of violence as the newly mutated strain - what else could that faceless, nameless, power in the film represent bar the all encompassing powers of neoliberal policies. Because whilst governments, and especially our U.K government rhetorically blame and name the invisible face of the coronavirus - we must not forget that the anonymous source of this political violence causing devastation globally is neoliberalism.
Neoliberal policies created a world in which matters of public health fell behind matters of global trade, privatisation, production and wealth. Health became a matter of economic goods and a matter of individual concern. In the U.K we saw neoliberal ideology decimate the NHS with austerity measures as efficiency ruled over patient care, and cuts underfunded the staff, and limited hospital bed capacity. That is the face of covid-19, and that is the face we should remember.
And so what solution does the film offer us?
Bacarau’s townspeople rise up against the purposeless violence in a psychedelic infused powertrip, as we see individuals arm themselves with a pill. This narcotic-based impetus seems to be part of the story's resolution, but not in a simplistic “drugs are good” manner.. The hallucinogenic drug is offered to one of the main character’s as soon as she returns to the village. Having been away for an extended period of time, it is this act that seems to envelop her back into the uniqueness of the Bacaraun community. I ask, therefore, did the community need this additional freaky strength to defeat the enemy, or is it a hyperbolization of the strength generated from the power of the community? Both answers are true to the consequences of the pandemic in Manaus, and on a much wider scale, the world.
Because the overwhelming answer to both questions is YES. If the pandemic has shown us anything it is that where governments fail, communities have prevailed. And that is why perhaps the film offers a fatalistic view of our condition as voluntary communities in Manaus and all over the world will most likely need supersonic strength to cope with the pandemic- socially, economically and culturally. And this is where my analysis departs from the fiction because we sadly do not have a hallucinogenic pill that will provide resources, equipment, time, and coherent policy to combat this violence engulfing our existence.
We don’t need a pill. We need a fully functioning government that recognises the prioritisation of wealth accumulation, privatisation, and transnational corporatism is what got us here in the first place.