In his second film, Gabriel Mascaro continues to display a splendid discipline as a storyteller and creates a wonderful drama that defies gender roles

Neon Bull

Neon Bull (Boi Neon) (2015)

Writ­ten and di­rect­ed by Gabriel Mas­caro. Star­ring Ju­liano Cazarré, Maeve Jink­ings, Viní­cius de Oliveira, Alyne San­tana, Josi­nal­do Alves, Samya De La­vor, Car­los Pes­soa and Abi­gail Pereira.

Ire­mar (Ju­liano Cazarré) is a vir­ile and hand­some bull wran­gler who works at the Vaque­jadas, a tra­di­tion­al sport in the north­east of Brazil in which two men on horse­back pur­sue a bull and try to vi­o­lent­ly pull the an­i­mal down by its tail to the ground. Dur­ing the day, he feeds, takes care of the bulls, helps trans­port them from show to show and sands their tails to in­crease fric­tion with the cow­boys’ hands. At night, Ire­mar is at the work­table with his sewing ma­chine mak­ing women’s clothes. You see, his dream is to be­come a fash­ion de­sign­er, so he loves to make cus­tom horse masks and ex­ot­ic out­fits for Gale­ga (Maeve Jink­ings), one of his co-work­ers and the group’s truck dri­ver, who also per­forms provoca­tive dances for men.

If this premise sounds un­usu­al, di­rec­tor Gabriel Mas­caro (who also wrote the script) does a re­mark­able job mak­ing every­thing seem so sur­pris­ing­ly nat­ur­al. Like with his first fea­ture film, the ex­cel­lent Au­gust Winds (2014), he adopts a rig­or­ous ap­proach that doesn’t draw at­ten­tion to it­self, as if all he wants is to por­tray this re­al­i­ty and the char­ac­ters who live in it with­out in­tru­sion or any sort of judg­ment. Neon Bull looks sim­ple, de­spite be­ing the­mat­i­cal­ly am­bi­tious, and so it is easy to miss the in­cred­i­ble com­plex­i­ty of what he is say­ing. It may take us more than one view­ing to re­al­ize that but don’t mis­judge it; Mas­caro knows ex­act­ly what he wants to say and cre­ates a beau­ti­ful film of strong bovine odors and dis­tant dreams — dreams like Iremar’s.

When Neon Bull be­gins, we see him tend­ing to the bulls and sand­ing their tails at a Vaque­ja­da. Af­ter the show is over, he leaves to col­lect parts of man­nequins and pieces of fab­ric from a large mud­dy field cov­ered with dis­card­ed trash from the event. He uses them for the clothes he makes. It isn’t a com­mon thing at all to see a bull wran­gler who likes to sew women’s clothes in a coun­try like Brazil, but we buy it. Ire­mar draws panties over the naked bod­ies of women on porn mag­a­zines and dreams of hav­ing his own brand (with his artis­tic name spelled with a Y) and a pro­fes­sion­al sewing ma­chine. But he doesn’t even know what a vec­tor logo is, and his life is buried deep in a world of bulls and dump. We can al­most smell the scent from the oth­er side of the screen.

But Neon Bull also re­minds us all the time that art can be cre­at­ed from the most un­com­mon sources. At one mo­ment, for in­stance, Ire­mar tells Galega’s daugh­ter Cacá (Alyne San­tana) about how ice cream is made from bull fat, and in an­oth­er scene, we see him col­or­ing bull tails with a gold­en spray (the ones that are pulled off the poor an­i­mals in that vi­o­lent sport) to use for his fash­ion. But even more cu­ri­ous is see­ing bull wran­glers like those car­ing also about their own looks, straight­en­ing their hair or wear­ing per­fume af­ter han­dling the bulls. And in a fan­tas­tic in­ver­sion of gen­der roles, we get to see a woman giv­ing per­fume to a man and se­duc­ing him at her workplace.

Cazarré is a tal­ent­ed ac­tor who un­der­stands that a mas­cu­line man can have a strong artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty (which may be ob­vi­ous but not to a lot of peo­ple), and we buy into his character’s dreams. Ire­mar is not alone, though. The girl Cacá loves hors­es but doesn’t want to go and live with her grand­par­ents or her fa­ther (who left home to find a bet­ter life else­where) for fear of leav­ing her mother’s apron string. But there is noth­ing more re­veal­ing than see­ing her play with a shin­ing Pe­ga­sus toy that she “flies” over the en­closed bulls. When Ire­mar says to Gale­ga that Cacá likes hors­es, she replies: “Yes, but she’ll nev­er be able to have one.” The re­al­is­tic way her moth­er sees their lives is not only more telling than his an­swer: “That you don’t know.

Gale­ga, on the oth­er hand, tries to make the best of that uni­verse where they live, even though she is clear­ly tired of hav­ing to be a sin­gle moth­er and take care of Cacá on her own — at a giv­en mo­ment she ac­tu­al­ly says that out loud. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her daugh­ter, and Jink­ings makes us see her af­fec­tion for the girl, like when she tells her to go to sleep be­cause it is late. Clos­ing the cast, we have fel­low bull wran­gler Zé (Car­los Pes­soa), who shines in the film’s most hi­lar­i­ous mo­ments (in­clud­ing a porn mag­a­zine whose pages are glued up with his sperm and a bizarre scene in­volv­ing a horse mas­tur­ba­tion) and the new guy Júnior (Viní­cius de Oliveira), who de­vel­ops a nice re­la­tion­ship with the rest of the group.

The ac­tors do a great job, es­pe­cial­ly when they are to­geth­er, like in a con­ver­sa­tion that takes place on a truck. As the char­ac­ters di­gress about bulls, hors­es and ice cream, the di­a­logue sounds al­most im­pro­vised, and they are even in­ter­rupt­ed by the bulls at one point be­fore the ac­tors re­sume talk­ing as if noth­ing had hap­pened. Every­thing is filmed with a dis­creet cam­era that usu­al­ly re­mains still or slow­ly slides lat­er­al­ly in long takes that may per­haps go unnoticed.

But Mas­caro also cre­ates many evoca­tive shots, like Gale­ga per­form­ing a hyp­no­tiz­ing dance un­der an in­tense red light and wear­ing a horse mask (is “horse pop” a term?) or a lyri­cal scene in which we see a man in al­most phys­i­cal com­mu­nion with a horse to the sound of a soft vi­o­lin. Or when we see the neon bull of the ti­tle (which tells every­thing you need to know about the film), or a sex scene be­tween two char­ac­ters among the bulls whose fan­tas­tic fram­ing cre­ates a cu­ri­ous vi­su­al bal­ance, with the cou­ple to the left and the an­i­mals on the right side.

And if Mas­caro al­ready evokes strange­ness with his use of green, red and blue neon lights, the film gets even cra­zier in a hi­lar­i­ous horse mas­tur­ba­tion scene that will cer­tain­ly put a lot of view­ers off. Not to men­tion how he shows a group of naked men show­er­ing to­geth­er or Ire­mar pee­ing with his pe­nis show­ing. But still, noth­ing com­pares to a sen­su­al and al­most graph­ic five-minute sex scene made in a long take in­volv­ing a preg­nant woman. Just beautiful.

In fact, it takes no more than this scene to let us re­al­ize how Neon Bull is so full of con­vic­tion about what it wants to say, show­ing a woman who works as a se­cu­ri­ty guard (usu­al­ly a “man’s job”) at a cloth­ing fac­to­ry and se­duc­ing Ire­mar into hav­ing sex with her. I also love the mo­ment when he tells her that his dream is to work at a cloth­ing fac­to­ry and how she acts to­tal­ly fine with that. Sen­si­tive un­til the very last scene, when we un­der­stand in just a few im­ages the abyss be­tween dreams and re­al­i­ty, Neon Bull is a film about dreams that will nev­er come true.

And that is re­flect­ed in the melan­choly lyrics of the song “As­tro­nau­ta” played by Os Nonatos dur­ing the fi­nal cred­its (free trans­la­tion): “As as­tro­naut I vis­it­ed planets/Went be­yond the lim­its of the mul­ti­col­ored sky/Trav­eled on board of my thoughts/Made a fly­ing saucer of my heart.”


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