By Daniel Lammin
6th November 2016

As our understanding of masculinity evolves, our idea of what makes a man is gradually shifting. Once locked within parameters that dictated the correct kind of behaviour and interests, those parameters have started to fall away and demonstrating how the idea of "being a man" is far more complex and intriguing than it was. Brazilian writer and director Gabriel Mascaro uses this as one of the more fascinating central conceits of his film 'Neon Bull', a film which takes place in a traditionally masculine setting but seeks to gently subvert our expectations of it.

Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) works in the Brazilian rodeo, the "Vaquejadas", helping to tend to the bulls before and after they enter the ring. He travels with a small troupe, led by Galega (Maeve Jinkings) and her young, precocious daughter Cacá (Alyne Santana). However, Iremar's great passion is women's fashion design, and in his downtime, with Galega as his model and scraps of fabric and a beat-up sewing machine, he dreams up new creations amidst the dirt and the sweat of the rodeo.

Crafted with great care and affection, 'Neon Bull' is a magical film, one that captures the raw beauty of not just its characters but its setting. It's a kind of fable, told with a sprinkling of magic realism, filled with fascinating figures right down to characters we only see for a moment. Its central point is Iremar, but the story doesn't just belong to him, the film sharing its time between all the members of the troupe. They're all quiet dreamers, all looking for ways to move above their position while embracing it for anything it can give them. Masculinity and femininity are defined often as we expect, but each is sprinkled with the other so that traditional gender roles either seem fluid or happy to be adopted, and there's a potent sexuality about all the characters, even if none are involved with one another. Mascaro and cinematographer Diego García capture the raw beauty of the rodeo, often finding ways to bathe it in magical light to give it a dream-like quality. This doesn't mean we're getting a sanitised view - it's still gritty and dirty, and watching the Vaquejadas itself (where two men on horseback bring down a bull by pulling on its tail) can at times be difficult to watch, but as far as the camera is concerned, it is what it is and shows it for that.


Mascaro's screenplay moves gently from moment to moment, finding exquisite moments of interaction between characters. Iremar and Cacá form a close bond, less surrogate-parent-and-child and more like friends, each supporting and offering guidance to the other. 'Neon Bull' is filled with moments of lightness and comedy, mixed with meditative self-reflection. It's more concerned with capturing moments in time rather than major turning points, which complements the dreamlike visual approach. It also makes almost no deal out of Iremar's dream, allowing us to see him at work or have him discuss openly with his workmates the dress he is working on. His masculinity is never questioned, his passion never used against him. In that sense, what 'Neon Bull' says about the way we look at masculinity is quietly radical, especially as it doesn't seek to "justify" Iremar's passion by making him a queer character.

It's a kind of fable, told with a sprinkling of magic realism, filled with fascinating figures right down to characters we only see for a moment.

As Iremar, Juliano Cazarré is magnetic to watch. His performance has a verisimilitude and a lightness of touch that's endlessly charming, and he has such ease with the material and the rest of the ensemble. His screen presence is also incredibly dynamic, probably the sexiest male performance I've seen on screen this year, brimming with confident sexuality and tender masculinity. Watching him is like watching a young Marlon Brando, which can only ever be a good thing. Maeve Jinkings is magical as Galega, whose forcefulness and stability drive the film forward. She's the foundation stone on which this little community is built, and Jinkings relishes exploring the careful balance Galega must strike being an authority figure to a group of grown men and a single mother with a lively daughter, played so wonderfully by Alyne Santana.

I found myself totally swept up and charmed by 'Neon Bull'. I loved its gentleness, its humour, its gorgeous imagery and its quiet subversiveness. It was wonderful spending time with these characters and this world, mostly because the film seemed as fascinated and beguiled by them as I was. Gabriel Mascaro has crafted a magical film, and one that I'm already looking forward to revisiting.

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