Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull takes us to Brazil and the world of the vaquejada – two cowboys (“vaqueiros”) on horseback pursue a bull, seeking to pin it between two horses and direct it to a goal (often consisting of chalk marks), where the animal is then knocked over. However, the macho world of this activity (which has been ruled illegal by the Brazilian Supreme Court since the film’s release) is less interesting than the humans that inhabit it: an unlikely family unit, which has at its centre, Iremar, who tends to the animals. He’s no stereotypical animal wrangler though, because by night he designs exotic outfits for his boss Galega, who moonlights as an exotic dancer.
The film moves to unlikely places with a mix of sometimes physical comedy and then intense sexuality, all overlaid with a stunning magical realism. The images in the film linger long in the memory after you have left the cinema. This may not be the version of Brazil that Sam Lowry imagined in his dreams, but it’s a slice of Brazilian life that is well worth exploring.