Iremar (Juliano CazarrŽ) works at the Vaquejadas, a rodeo in the north east of Brazil where two men on horseback try to bring down a bull by grabbing its tail. It's dusty and backbreaking work, and Iremar spends his days covered in mud and dung, feeding, prepping and taking care of the bulls. Home is the truck used to transport the animals from show to show, which he shares with his co-workers; Galega (Maeve Jinkings), an exotic dancer, the truck driver and mother to the young and spirited Cac‡ (Alyne Santana), and ZŽ (Carlos Pessoa), his rotund compadre in the bullpen. Together they form a makeshift but close-knit family. But Brazil and the Northeast are changing and the region's booming clothing industry has stirred new ambitions in Iremar. Swinging in his hammock in the back of the truck, his head is filled with dreams of pattern cutting, sequins and exquisite fabrics as he mentally assembles elaborate new fashion designs...
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There are some arresting images at the beginning of the film that signal a visual storyteller and indeed the film opens a window into a world that is at once half familiar and foreign. The white bulls that are herded into the arena by horsemen on either side in a sport that requires them to floor the bull by quickly manipulating its tail is half familiar from rodeos we have seen on screen before. But the lifestyle is strange, notably for this small group of disparates: Galega (Maeve Jinkings), a sometime exotic dancer and her little daughter Cac‡ (Alyne Santana), ZŽ (Carlos Pessoa), an overweight cowpoke and Iremar (Juliano CazarrŽ), the handsome romantic who dreams of designing and making fashions...
In his award winning feature film debut, Gabriel Mascaro is adept at creating atmosphere with little dialogue and he is well served by a superb cast, not least the young Santana (who gets second billing in the credits) as Cac‡, the daughter.
The screenplay follows these characters over a short time span in which there is little traditional action or plot, yet we are drawn to the circumstances and to the small details of their lives. The bulls are an ever present backdrop, and the neon bull of the title makes only one brief appearance at a night rodeo. We can read this as a metaphor for the passing glory of the bullring's allure ... or as the symbol of Iremar's ambitions in fashion design, something he can only fulfil by making stage outfits for Galega's exotic dance routines.
The social and economic environment is sketched out with scenes at the horse auction, where Iremar and ZŽ try to steal a famed stallion's sperm, and with the use of the camera to reveal the human and natural landscape. The film is rated R18+ for an extended and authentic sex scene, the longest single scene in the film - all a single, unedited bravura shot - which is preceded by a well observed piece of writing and filmmaking.
There are a few flat moments and sometimes a sense of lack of purpose, but Mascaro always redeems the film before we lose our interest.
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NEON BULL (R18+)
CAST: Juliano CazarrŽ, Maeve Jinkings, Alyne Santana, Josinado Alves, Roberto Berindelli, Carlos Pessoa,
PRODUCER: Rachel Ellis
DIRECTOR: Gabriel Mascaro
SCRIPT: Gabriel Mascaro
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Diego Garcia
EDITOR: Fernando Epstein, Eduardo Serrano
MUSIC: Carlos Montenegro, Otavio Santos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maira Mesquita
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 10, 2016 (Sydney: Dendy Newtown; Melbourne: Cinema Nova, Lido Cinemas)