Directed by Gabriel Mascaro
Opens April 8 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
The protagonist of writer-director Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull, a beautifully tactile new film from Brazil, holds down a job as a rodeo hand. In the country’s northeast, where the film takes place, vaqueiros on horseback play to the crowd by yanking bulls to the ground by their tails, a spectacle the strong but soft-spoken Iremar (played by Juliano Cazarré) appears content to stay on the fringes of, herding animals and cleaning paddocks as the sun makes its slow way across the sky. But the cowboy doesn’t appear overly concerned with keeping up “manly” appearances: When he’s not in the stables, he’s making clothes at his sewing machine. Neon Bull tracks Iremar’s quietly diligent pursuit of his couture pipe dream—and the dynamics of the makeshift family he’d lose if it were ever to become a reality.
Like Channing Tatum’s “Magic” Mike Lane, Iremar is an alpha male but no unfeeling stoic, and he identifies himself substantially through his physical labor. Quality, not quantity, is Iremar’s watchword, at least when it comes to his more delicate hands-on activities: He spends most of his time perfecting a racy equine costume for Galega (Maeve Jinkings), who dances for rodeo patrons after-hours. The bond between model and designer remains the film’s great question mark. Iremar is not the father of single mother Galega’s daughter, Cacá (Alyne Santana), but he displays an uncommon patience with the girl; we don’t see Iremar touch Galega except to take her measurements, but the appearance on the scene of long-haired dude Junior (Vinícius de Oliveira), to whom Galega takes a liking, rouses in Iremar obvious feelings of possessiveness.
By the time Neon Bull reaches its conclusion with a truly extraordinary sex scene, the film’s gentle camerawork all of sudden seeming to rhyme with the lovers’ tender choreography, the body’s plumbing has long since become something of a theme: Iremar urinates in full view of the camera, Galega waxes her pubic hair in the cab of her truck, and, most memorably, Iremar and his hapless colleague Zé (Carlos Pessoa) jerk off a horse in order to steal its thoroughbred’s semen. Mascaro shows that humans might be prone to the same animal instincts as animals themselves, but their private masquerade of dressing and undressing is really something to see. No one’s more bewitched by this than Iremar himself: When Zé hands him a porno magazine with the pages stuck together, he doesn’t waste any time—he gets to work sketching an outfit over one of the nude women.