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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Not By the Horns
by Donald Levit

A Brazilian couple objected that Neon Bull/Boi neon was too long by half, individual scenes extended to excessive lengths, and that for meat and sex Jamón Jamón was better. They were correct in that usual documentarian Gabriel Mascaro has not given great linear movement to his script for the hundred-one-minute ostensible rodeo movie. The vignettes follow one another like life, routine and on the surface lacking direction or purpose. But even while Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu averred that “a film must have some kind of structure or else it is not a film,” he was careful to add that “pictures with obvious plots bore me.”

This Venice and Toronto festivals slice of life is true to the heart of things. In the Museum of Modern Art-Film Society of Lincoln Center forty-fifth, 2016 New Directors/New Films, ND/NF, prior to commercial release, it avoids cliché as well as editorializing comment, and thus approaches to unadorned realism. Jarring industrial complexes scar the northeastern landscape, but this is no Luddite screed. In this milieu of animals and communal humans, horse-preferring little girl Cacá (Aline Santana) cannot but be aware of sex and of bodies that include her own still-unformed one; she rather favors young man substitute Júnior (Vinicius de Oliveira), but he is more interested in grooming his own flowing locks, and this is no coming-of-age story, anyway. Lovemaking or its prelude is casual and even funny in hair-plucking and in a unique scene with a prize stud stallion. The long-take end intercourse on a textile factory table is lovingly filmed, intense, real beyond choreography, and spotlights in every sense the gleaming pregnant belly of cosmetics saleswoman/nighttime security guard Geise (Samya De Lavor).

This macho world of vaquejada involves bodies, period, good-natured but hurtful joking about that of fat Zé (Carlos Pessoa) and his lack of female consolation. DOP Diego Garcia catches the spare countryside in its rainy season green and just as reverently shows these rough, rank men bathing in the nude together from buckets, as arresting as a painting or the photographs of The Salt of the Earth fellow countryman Sebastião Salgado.

The unifying activity is the local variation of bullfighting, different from the Portuguese and French but, like them, kinder than the Spanish world’s corrida, bulls bred to fight and matadores schooled to kill. Hero paterfamilias figure Iremar (Juliano Cezarré) and Zé are among those who prod the bulls through chutes while with dry sticky sand coating the black hairs sprouting at their tail’s end. In the ring, one horseman grabs that tail to hand it to another, socially more important rider whose task is to pull the animal to the ground before reaching a line drawn in the sand.

Sleeping in adjacent hammocks, the bullpen vaqueros travel from town to town in an open-bed truck that also transports several of the docile, shorthorn white bulls. The in-effect family unit includes Cacá’s mother Galeaga (Maeve Jinkings), who is the driver and doubles as an exotic dancer in a horse-head mask and, the girl’s father disappeared, is Iremar’s woman in a rather free relationship. Júnior joins them later when Zé leaves to replace a horse trainer injured in an unsuccessful but undiscovered plot of theirs.

Presented as casually and without comment as the other twists and turns, is Iremar’s dream, odd in context and not to be fulfilled in this film and, realistically, not in this life. He does not have money to buy ready-made labels but, after the bulls and whatever carpentry and makeshift mannequin work, he draws women’s fashion clothing and, Galeaga as inspiration and clothes horse dummy, cuts and sews on an ancient machine.

The contrast is simply here, neither emphasized nor downplayed. Nor, although the major figure, is Iremar protagonist to an extent that excludes the others. The everyday continues for each, the past left unexplicated, the future open.

(Released by Kino Lorber; not rated by MPAA.)

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