Neon Bull

A dusty universe with a fresh perspective

The characters in "Neon Bull" have created a sort of makeshift family; their lives revolve around the rodeo.
Photo: Memento Films International

(NG) "Neon Bull (Boi Neon)", part of the Luxembourg City Film Festival's Official Competition, takes viewers into the universe of rodeo in northeast Brazil. And although viewers are taken into the dusty universe, the film feels fresh and unique. It will leave viewers with much to ponder.

Iremar (played by Juliano Cazarré), who works at the rodeo "Vaquejadas", has a passion for designing clothes. He spends his spare time sketching and sewing outfits, fitting Galega (Maeve Jinkings), an exotic dancer. He also has a certain gentleness to his nature which Galega's ornery daughter, Cacá (Alyne Santana), latches on to.

These three characters, plus the rotund Zé, become part of a makeshift family. Their livelihood revolves around the rodeo, and they sleep, eat, do laundry and make love all near the bull pens. 

Cacá (Alyne Santana) is one of the characters whose backstory is explained to a certain degree. Viewers will be taken by her: she does and says exactly what is on her mind.
Photo: Memento Films International

The film somehow plays out more like a documentary than a traditional film with a clear narrative: "Neon Bull" is essentially a string of vignettes. And as foreign as this universe might seem--and despite the film's somewhat slow pace--viewers are drawn in to care about these characters, whose backgrounds we know very little about.

Artist/director Gabriel Mascaro is obsessed with the body, both of humans and the beasts, to the point that in several scenes it isn't always clear if we are seeing a human or a bull (or horse). There are two unexpected, graphic sex scenes (involving humans, anyway), yet there is no judgment passed on the characters. What they do seems just matter-of-fact, a natural part of being human.

Iremar, in particular, also challenges the typical male gender role. The epitome of this is his using a porn magazine for sketching designs. There's also a sense of him rising in a certain way, from his buying cologne to getting access to a factory where he is transfixed by the sewing machines.

Brazilian-born director Gabriel Mascaro has already had his work featured in various museums, including the Guggenheim. In "Neon Bull", he has a particular talent in the way he uses light.
Photo: Memento Films International

Mascaro's focus on the body is also coupled with a brilliant use of light: from the stunning sunset shots toward the end of the film to the bizarre erotic dancing scenes.

All in all, on one hand it is easy to see how this original film could already have won awards (it took home the jury prize at the Venice Film Festival and best film at the Warsaw International Film Festival, 2015). On the other hand, the lack of narrative arc might throw some viewers off. But it's still worth seeing: the images will leave their imprints, and you'll leave questioning traditional views on gender, sex and what it means to be human.

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Where and when

"Neon Bull" will be screened in Portuguese with English subtitles at 7:00pm at Ciné Utopia on March 4.

Click here to view more reviews and content regarding the Luxembourg City Film Festival.

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