Anyone coming to Neon Bull expecting a narrative will find themselves wilfully short-changed; the closest thing to a story development comes when a horse wrangler gets injured by a distressed mare, and one of the regular characters get swapped out in order to take his place, while himself being replaced by a younger, vainer substitute. Outside of that, Gabriel Mascaro’s film is literally just a collection of short vignettes depicting life on the road at a traditional – for which, read: antiquated – vaquejada, or Brazilian bull rodeo. Rather than following life in the ring among the rodeo riders, however, Mascaro focuses on the back-stage bull wranglers and drivers, the kind of people who spectators must subconsciously realise do exist, and yet expend so little thought upon they might as well not be there.
This is, then, an unmasking of the unseen side of country living, a film that opens up a world we’d never ordinarily think about – and a picture of the people who live, work and breed a million miles away from our Internet browsing, DVD-watching, nine-to-five existences. It’s a thoroughly absorbing, eye-opening work of art, one that doesn’t bear scrutiny under the same criteria we’d apply to 99% of other movies, and one that transcends the medium in a fashion we rarely see.
Fashion is a large part of the film; or rather, an aspiration towards becoming a fashion designer held by Iremar (Cazarré), the character we follow most closely. There’s a short scene in which he visits an urban printing outlet to try and get some labels made up, and it’s here where the differences are most apparent. Iremar, who has no access to any kind of computer nor, we suspect, would be able to use one were he to visit the internet café suggested, simply has no facility for meeting the simplest requirements of modern, technological civilisation. It’s a disappointment that is at the heart of Neon Bull; almost every life we touch is in some way compromised by or subservient to circumstance.
This is a sad movie then - albeit its most touching moment comes in the form of a simple hug between two like souls - but also a very beautiful one. Mascaro has composed it as a series of one-take, no cuts scenes (the climactic one lasting seven unbroken and utterly beguiling minutes), and if it plays out extremely languidly there’s always something to catch the eye or the attention. It’s also rather brutal, never shying away from showing the reality of its subject matters. But if you’re not averse to lingering in front of a film that almost perversely refuses to follow the norms of the medium, then this will almost certainly be worth your while.
Extras: Trailer / Making Of / Interview with Director Gabriel Mascaro
NEON BULL (BOI NEON) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: GABRIEL MASCARO / SCREENPLAY: GABRIEL MASCARO / STARRING: JULIANO CAZARRÉ, VINICIUS DE OLIVEIRA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW