I think I can safely say you haven’t seen a film quite like Neon Bull before. Using an American perspective, this is not a movie that Hollywood would touch in a million years; the director would have been laughed out of the room. Gabriel Mascaro certainly has a unique vision for his film and must certainly have known it would be a tough sell to some. However, I quite like foreign films with different perspectives on life and showing what goes on around the world. I was not prepared for some of the overtly shocking scenes.
The Movie Itself (2.5/5)
Our film initially focuses on Iremar, a ranch-hand of sorts that works at the “Vaquejadas,” a type of Brazilian rodeo. He takes care of the bulls and preps them for the shows. This involves making sure there is enough sand on the tails so the two men on horseback can get enough of a grip to pull the bull down before it reaches the disqualification line. You will see many shots of this competition and quite a few bulls being dragged down by their tails.
I feel like some people would stop watching just because of them using the animals like this for sport. Of course this is much tamer than something like bull fighting, and seems like it is commonplace to the region. Neon Bull does an excellent job of portraying what these men and women go through to make a living; for Iremar, it may be his only way out. He is trying to save up enough money to become a fashion designer; it is his true passion in life.
Neon Bull does not just follow Iremar, but also a crazy gato named Zé and the leader of the crew Galega and her daughter Cacá. The relationship between them all brings a lot of humor, usually perpetrated or projected towards Zé. Generally it is with Iremar, anything from stealing his crusty porno mag to draw clothes over the nude ladies, or to their misadventure involving some horse semen. There was also some nice laughter with Cacá and Zé going at each other, with Zé’s weight often coming into play.
Early on I felt like this was going to be like a live action Ghibli movie, between the exotic locale and the colorful characters; I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had made Cacá the star. They seemed to go into her feelings of being unloved, forgotten, and neglected by her mother, but also seeking a father figure in Iremar, who seemed to always be preoccupied and disinterested. I feel like that was an avenue they could have tried crossing, but by the second half of the film she was largely forgotten.
Neon Bull takes place over what seems like a few months. There is no central story or plot. I liken it to something like Napoleon Dynamite or Boyhood, where you get a short scene and then jump to something completely different at another time or day. None of the scenes really match the previous ones, even though there are some recurring characters. This feels like a weakness as much as a strength. The setting was interesting and different, the characters had room to grow, and then just all of a sudden the film simply ends. There are no resolutions to be had; the characters are likely still playing out their same scenarios.
I’ll also mention for the sake of those reading a review with the intention of whether to watch this or not, that there is a fair amount of nudity. Most of it is male with the exception of a very long scene at the end. You also might remember that I mentioned the horse semen above. Well, Neon Bull shows you how they procured some. It ended up more funny than shocking for me, but better to be forewarned so you can plan to not watch this film with family or children. The sad thing is they could have omitted most of the outrageous elements if Neon Bull had had a basic story-line. The film could have been carried by the setting and visuals; instead I think most will only find disappointment.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4/5)
The visuals in Neon Bull certainly reflect what I would expect from those living on a dirty, dusty ranch. While many things are drab and muted, there is also a ton of vibrant color. The bright daytime scenes are all beautifully shot and look great. Some of the darker night scenes can have some black crush and lose a little detail. Overall I think most will be pleased with the picture and have no issues.
Score/Audio Quality (4.5/5)
While there is very little in the way of score, the sound effects more than make up for it. If you turn up the volume at times it will sound like the rodeo is in your house and there is a bull right beside you. Dialogue is all in Portuguese, but everything said was clear and and you should have no problem following along with the subtitles. (No SDH available)
Special Features (2/5)
Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (14:34) This shows the setup for an early scene with all the crew laying out cloth. Then the actors all do some strange yoga and breathing exercises before running through a scene rehearsal.
Interview with Director Gabriel Mascaro (21:11) The questions are displayed for what feels like an eternity (roughly 30 seconds) and Gabriel goes into some in depth answers. He talks about working with a Mexican cinematographer and going against preconceived notions of what Northern Brazil would look like. He discusses the actors performances and what casting was like. He also describes what the cast and crew were going through with the final scene.
- Disc Art
- Non Eco-Case
- Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
- Portuguese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Portuguese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- English (Optional)
Runtime 104 Mins
I really wanted to like Neon Bull, and in many ways I did. I just wish that there was some sort of character development and any kind of satisfying conclusion. The overtly sexual and shocking scenes didn’t really seem well placed and felt shoehorned in to wow audiences at film festivals instead of actually adding any kind of substance. The shots and settings were gorgeous and the effects really put you into the reality of the characters daily lives. Also, the technical merits are fantastic for anyone that wants to check this out. The features, however, are lacking and don’t really add to the film. I would certainly say it is worth a rental for those that like foreign films or something out of the ordinary. For those wanting to purchase a copy Amazon or Best Buy both carry the film.
Note: This Blu Ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.