2 Films You Might have Missed in 2020

After a year in which the head­less chick­ens at Warn­er Bros declared, yawn, that cin­e­ma was dead, again, it’s easy to have missed the fact that a num­ber of films were in fact released in the year just gone, albeit in a some­what trun­cat­ed man­ner. Two of which are very much worth the effort of chas­ing down.

Bacu­rau won the Jury prize at Cannes in 2019 and is the third fea­ture from Brazil’s Kle­ber Men­donça Fil­ho, which he co-directs with his long time art direc­tor Juliano Dor­nelles. Set in a dystopi­an near future, Bacu­rau is a myth­i­cal town in the Brazil­ian out­back whose inhab­i­tants are being slow­ly closed in on. 

Their water sup­ply has been cut off, their town is inex­plic­a­bly dis­ap­pear­ing from Google maps, or what­ev­er its futur­is­tic equiv­a­lent is, and there are a group of tourists whose safari trip seems to revolve around tak­ing out the town’s inhab­i­tants, as if they all exist­ed in some sort of actu­alised video game.

At Home, In the Com­pa­ny of Strangers.

Bacu­rau begins in malev­o­lent sci-fi mode before mor­ph­ing into spaghet­ti west­ern ter­ri­to­ry via Mad Max. As such, it’s a com­pan­ion piece to At Home In the Com­pa­ny of StrangersNiki­ta Mikhalkov’s impres­sive debut, from1974. It shares that film’s refusal to be bound by any genre straight jack­et, and is wil­ful­ly open to any num­ber of inter­pre­ta­tions. So that its polit­i­cal res­o­nances are sug­gest­ed rather than declaimed. The result is an impres­sive­ly atmos­pher­ic trip into a heart of dark­ness that says lit­tle about the future and much, alas, about the present of the coun­try in which it is set.

The Vast of Night is a much less sub­stan­tial affair, but is well worth a look nonethe­less. The fea­ture debut of Andrew Pat­ter­son, who also wrote and pro­duced it under the pseu­do­nym James Mon­tague, the film was actu­al shot in 2016. But it was picked up by Ama­zon last year after turn­ing many a head at Edin­burgh and Toron­to, and was duly released in the sum­mer of 2020. 

It’s an unabashed homage to 1950’s sci-fi B movies and is pre­sent­ed as an appar­ent episode of a would-be Twi­light Zone series. What ele­vates the film is the infec­tious con­fi­dence with which it is directed. 

And there’s absolute­ly no way we can per­suade you to con­sid­er a sequel…?

I’m sure if I sat sown and thought about it for 20 min­utes, I could prob­a­bly work out quite how he man­ages to match-cut that track­ing shot that seems to glide all the way into the bas­ket­ball game and then effort­less­ly back out again and into the night. But I’d rather just lux­u­ri­ate in its brash exu­ber­ance. Part of the joy of see­ing mag­ic is know­ing that it’s only a trick but being for the life of you inca­pable of work­ing out exact­ly how it was that the trick was done.

Clear­ly made for thrup­pence ha’penny, thanks to its bravu­ra direc­tion The Vast of Night looks like a mil­lion dol­lars and more, and is the most impres­sive call­ing card since Don­ny Darko, if that’s not too hubris­tic an appel­la­tion to lay on it. And both films, by the by, come in at a crisp 90 min­utes. Would that some of their more sea­soned, ahem, supe­ri­ors would fol­low their lead.

You can see the trail­er for Bacu­rau below. 

And for The Vast of Night below.

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