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Short Takes: Neon Bull

(Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands, 2015)

With scalpel-like precision, Gabriel Mascaro’s second narrative feature frankly yet effortlessly explores sexuality, environmental issues, and suffering both human and animal.

Tough-as-nails Iremar (Juliano Cazarré, an actor who inhabits each scene as authentically as a nonprofessional would) works at a vaquejada, Brazil’s traditional rodeo, shoveling manure and chalking bulls’ tails before they’re shunted into the ring. Aside from an ill-advised get-rich-quick scheme that involves stealing semen from a pedigreed stallion, he spends his free time designing and sewing glittery spandex apparel for women. He even draws clothes on the models in a co-worker’s nudie mag—a perfect micro-expression of the film’s ability to undermine and complicate obvious signifiers of sexuality. Back at camp, he’s on family terms with Galega (Maeve Jinkings), a dancer who dons a horse head for her not-quite-striptease post-rodeo act, and her daughter Cacá (Aline Santana), whom she treats like a little sister. Their quarrels and camaraderie perfectly express what it’s like to live in profound dysfunction without any sense of pity or histrionics.

Iremar is only truly apart from his makeshift family in a crucial scene where he visits a textile factory at night. Sensually rubbing his hands over the machinery, his tour culminates with bedding the heavily pregnant security guard who let him in. Beautifully rendered by DP Diego García, this act doesn’t complicate his character so much as confirm the validity of the Kinsey scale.