Brazilian writer-director Gabriel Mascaro’s second fiction feature captures a uniquely Brazilian slice of life while adding his own artistic touch. Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is a cowhand working at “the vaquejada”, a traditional exhibition sport in which cowboys pull bulls to the ground by their tails. The film oscillates between mundane day-to-day tasks and surreal imagery used in performance art that does not occupy any physical space within the film.
Mascaro has a documentary background, and it’s best to approach Neon Bull like a documentary. Despite its occasional flights of fancy, watching Neon Bull is a bit like watching a Frederic Wiseman film. Heavily composed shots dwell on characters doing seemingly mundane tasks for minutes at a time, which can require patience on the viewer’s part, but it’s simply a different rhythm that takes some getting used to.
The lingering camera begins to frame these characters as specimens cohabiting the farm with the other animals. The penis is not something to hide, it’s something to urinate from, keep clean, and occasionally use for intercourse. These are the moments that you would also never see in a documentary, which is probably one of the reasons Mascaro decided to make this a fiction film.
Another fascinating thing about this film is the many juxtapositions in its style and characters. Most of the daytiem shots contain very little colour and are composed mostly of brown dirt and white cows. At night is when the colours come out to play, the title Neon Bull comes from a sort of ‘cosmic rodeo’ with black lights and cows painted in fluorescent colours. The cowhands handle manure all day, but are interested in fancy cologne. They are rough and tumble but one cowhand is very precious about his hair and Iremar’s hobby is designing and making skimpy female garments which we only see worn in the performance art sequences.
Neon Bull is certainly more for the art film lovers than those just interested in a narrative, so seeing it a festival will likely be your only chance to catch it on the big screen. If you’re not one for the more poetic side of cinema, you still get to see a man give a horse a hand job, and that’s something.
SUN SEP 20 10:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 1