Neon Bull (Boi Neon). Gabriel Mascaro. Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands.
What’s most impressive about Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull isn’t its lush cinematography by Diego García (who also shot Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor this year) that gorgeously captures the sweeping landscape of the northeast region of Brazil as effortlessly as the tight, confined spaces where the characters (and the bulls) spend their more intimate moments. It’s not the truly remarkable performance by Alyne Santana, making her screen debut as precocious girl named Cacá who travels with her go-go dancer mother in a troupe of traveling vaqueiros (essentially Brazilian cowboys), at the heart of the film (and know that I don’t often find a lot of praise to give for performances by children).
It isn’t the epic, hypnotic sex scene that occurs late in the film and actually manages to break new ground (as difficult as that may be) in the canon of cinematic sexuality… nor is it the languid pace Mascaro uses to tell his story… nor the refreshing sensitivity that he employs to approach his characters, flaws and all. What makes Neon Bull so impressive is the fact that there’s almost no frame of reference for everything we see transpire onscreen. Unlike, say, Quentin Tarantino (for lack of a subtler example), Neon Bull is not the culmination of all the films, all the music, all the stories Mascaro has seen, heard, or read. It almost feels defiant against the notion of allusion, but rejecting the viewer’s expectations just for the sake of doing so can be a really cheap move… and that’s not what Mascaro doing here.
Nothing that happens in Neon Bull follows an expected course of action or fits into a familiar mold. This extends from the characters’ interactions with one another to the role of the titular “neon bull” to the images that inhabit the screen—whether those images function on a purely visual level like a long shot of Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) on an empty dirt field littered with rainbow-colored streamers and broken mannequins (pictured above) or whether they service the story itself like a sequence involving two men masturbating a bull.
Despite some of these lascivious details I’ve mentioned, Neon Bull’s strengths are so quiet and unassuming that it might seem easy for a passive audience member to miss them altogether. Kino Lorber will release Neon Bull in the U.S. later this year. No word on either a French or U.K. release at this time.
With: Juliano Cazarré, Alyne Santana, Maeve Jinkings, Carlos Pessoa, Vinícius de Oliveira, Josinaldo Alves, Samya de Lavor, Abigail Pereira, Roberto Berindelli, Marcelo Caetano