Film Review: Gabriel Mascaro's 'Neon Bull'
Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull was one of the darlings of the Toronto and Warsaw Film Festivals. It’s surreal look at life in a Brazilian rodeo. We follow Iremar (Juliano Cazarré), the closest thing the film has to a protagonist, as he sands the tails of bulls during the day (the bulls are heaved to the ground by two rodeo cowboys in the main event), and practicing his passion for fashion design and tailoring by creating ever more elaborate outfits for the driver of his troupe, Galega; an exotic dancer, at night.
It is here that we see one of the more interesting themes of the film – Mascaro’s exploration of gender roles; everything seems reversed from stereotype, the beautiful woman is the dancer, sure, but she is also the mechanic and driver of the rodeos huge cattle. When Galega does dance, she dances bathed in red light, wearing horses hooves and a giant horse mask in some of the finest and weirdest scenes of the film.
When a new male with resplendent black hair that he babies and combs in the mirror each day joins the troupe its only a matter of time before we see him on his knees in a cow pasture going down on Galega as she clutches his hair in her hands.
In the reverse, our male protagonist is gifted perfume and taken to a sewing factory for a tryst with a pregnant woman in a sex scene that goes on so long it becomes uncomfortable, then normal, then wonderful.
That’s not to say the film is simply an examination of gender roles. The whole work stands out as a dispassionate view of the bodies of animals; human and bovine. In a scene where Iremar wakes up to take a piss, the shot never changes as he moves around to find his spot, and relieves himself. In many ways it looks more like a nature documentary than when the subjects are human that it does when the subjects are cows.
Indeed, the way Mascaro sets up shots is reminiscent of the static, distant frames of Rhomer, any still could be a stand alone photograph and lose hardly anything. Here, the shots are more important than the story, and the scenes are basically vignettes against a background.
Text by John Hutt