Neon Bull [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (7th May 2018).
The Film

Foxtel Movies International Award (Best Feature): Neon Bull (winner) - Adelaide Film Festival
(Best Feature Film - Avant-Garde and Genre): Gabriel Mascaro (nominated) - Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, 2016
Jury Award (Best Directorial Debut): Gabriel Mascaro (nominated) - Camerimage, 2015
Audience Award (Best Film): Gabriel Mascaro (winner), Cinema Brazil Grand Prize (Best Actor): Juliano Cazarré (winner), (Best Cinematography): Diego García (tied), (Best Screenplay, Original): Gabriel Mascaro (tied), (Best Picture): Neon Bull (nominated) , (Best Director): Gabriel Mascaro (nominated), (Best Supporting Actress): Maeve Jinkings (nominated), (Best Costume Design): Flora Rebollo (nominated), (Best Make-Up): Alex de Farias (nominated), (Best Editing): Fernando Epstein and Eduardo Serrano (nominated), (Best Sound): Fabián Oliver, Mauricio d'Orey, and Vincent Sinceretti (nominated) - Cinema Brazil Grand Prize, 2017
Premio Fénix (Best Cinematography): Diego García (winner), (Best Screenplay): Gabriel Mascaro (winner), (Best Director): Gabriel Mascaro (nominated), ( Best Art Direction): Maira Mesquita (nominated), (Best Editing): Fernando Epstein and Eduardo Serrano (nominated), (Best Film): Neon Bull (nominated), (Best Music): Otavio Santos, Cláudio N., and Carlos Montenegro (nominated), (Best Costume Design): Flora Rebollo (nominated) - Fenix Film Awards, 2016
Première Brazil (Best Film): Gabriel Mascaro (winner), (Best Screenplay): Gabriel Mascaro (winner), (Best Supporting Acress): Alyne Santana (tied), and (Best Cinematography): Diego García (winner) - Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, 2015
Venice Horizons Award - Special Jury Prize: Gabriel Mascaro (won) and Venice Horizons Award (Best Film): Gabriel Mascaro (nominated) - Venice Film Festival, 2015

The rodeo troupe of vaqueiros Iremar (A Wolf at the Door's Juliano Cazarré) and Zé (Carlos Pessoa), along with dancer Galega (Aquarius' Maeve Jinkings) – saddled with her young daughter Cacá (Alyne Santana) since her "noble" husband walked out on them – travel the North of Brazil on tour wrangling the bulls for a show highlighting a titular "neon bull" splattered with glow-in-the-dark paint to be seen as cowboys on horseback tail him through the ring at night and a side act in which bull-masked, otherwise scantily-clad Galega struts and trots around the ring for tips. Having traveled so long with one another through a landscape that is being both ravaged and renewed by industrialization that has turned the cowboy way of life into a sideshow while locals either flee for the city or quit the farm for the new factories, the makeshift family is starting to splinter. Iremar, who has been designing Galega's costumes, dreams of becoming a "tailor" or a fashion designer, spending his days stitching clothes around a Frankenstein-like dressmaker's dummy assembled from discarded mannequin parts and store display busts, and drawing clothing concepts onto the naked bodies of Zé's porn magazines. Galega seeks escape in accessories, from Iremar's costumes to the wares of the local vendors. Cacá, who has looked to Iremar as both playmate and father figure, admires the horses even though it is highly unlikely she could ever have one (her childish fascination with the animals becoming a point of annoyance for all three adults). Zé schemes to get rich by stealing the valuable sperm of the bulls at auction. As Iremar's dreams seem increasingly unlikely – especially as he realizes his naivety about the actual design and manufacturing processes beyond sketches and a needle and thread – he becomes more irritable, especially once Zé's replacement Junior (Central Station's Vinícius de Oliveira) replaces him in the affections of Cacá as well as Galega with whom Iremar had maintained a platonic relationship (his knowledge of her body restricted to taking measurements). A mix of documentary observation, stylized vignettes, and workshopped but improvised dramatic scenes, the narrative feature debut of documentary filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro has no ending just as it really has no beginning other than the arrival of this group to a place likely no different from where they were before. The more rural and desert parts of the landscape that is alien to the viewers – whether international or of the Brazilian metropolitan centers – as photographed by Diego García (Cemetery of Splendour), is not to the characters who are instead taken aback by the grey factories and sprawling workshop floors. Iremar has no more idea what has incited a more immediate need for change in his life than any of the other characters, and therefore does not seem to realize in the ending scenes that he has not taken any steps towards his dreams nor does he seem to realize that he has missed another opportunity for change after his sexual encounter with pregnant perfume/cologne saleswoman-by-day/clothing factory security guard by night Geise (The Last Breath's Samya De Lavor) lest one interpret this explicit highlight as a narrative means of affirming Iremar's heterosexuality in light of comparisons of him to "an old woman" when he is sewing. It is the viewer alone that feels the hopelessness in the monotony of routine in the bookending closing scene.

Video

Photographed in high definition, Neon Bull comes to Blu-ray in a high bitrate 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen that conveys the rugged textures of the setting and sweaty skin along with the brown and grey settings spiked by primary colors in wardrobe and the occasional saturated gel lighting of the stage shows. The blacks are inky and any instance of crush is probably down to the original photography (being of a professional standard but also within the limitations of location shooting and a certain deliberate rough edge).

The film is available in the United States as a Region A-coded release from Kino Lorber.

Audio

Audio options include Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo tracks that are front-oriented for much of the film in keeping with a certain sense of desolateness of the landscape with faint atmosphere in the surrounds while the stage show, auction, and rodeo sequences make fuller use of the surrounds for crowd and source music. Optional English subtitles are available and free of errors.

Extras

Extras start off with an "Extended Making Of" featurette (24:52) - extended by ten minutes over the fourteen-minute version on the American release - which intercuts workshop and rehearsal footage with behind the scenes coverage of the shoot, with rehearsals composed combining physical exercise with improvisation leading to more focused final scenes (particularly when it comes to working with child actress Santana). The interview with director Gabriel Mascarao (32:04) dates from the 2016 Oslo screening and is poor in video quality but its presence on the disc was at the request of the director. He describes the film as providing an opportunity to portray Brazil outside of its popular image in the country's cinema domestically and as exported to other countries, depicting his region of the country and the "contradictions" of recent accelerated development. The interview also touches upon his earlier documentary work. The disc also features the film's trailer (2:10). Housed with the disc is a booklet featuring the director in conversation with Little White Lies editor-in-chief David Jenkins which is a fascinating interiew that provides some context to the behind the scenes workshopping of the actors, some additional shadings of character relationships, and both Mascarao's acknowledgement of Claire Denis's Beau Travail on his narrative film work and the interviewer's comparisons of his work to that of Carlos Reygadas (Silent Light) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul - for which cinematographer Garcia lensed Cemetery of Splendour - and suggesting a good double bill for the film in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner.

Overall

 


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