Lassoing Gabriel Mascaro’s Sexy Neon Bull

Watching the engrossing Boi Neon (Neon Bull), you can forgive yourself for thinking Gabriel Mascaro’s latest film is a documentary. Mascaro, of course, made seven documentaries—including High-Rise, Defiant Brasilia and Housemaids—before turning the heads of critics and film-festival juries with his narrative debut, 2014’s Ventos de Agosto (August Winds). The spontaneity, lack of plot and naturalistic acting would have convinced August Winds viewers they were watching a Brazilian documentary were it not for the meticulous lighting, image framing and colors-of-Benetton set pieces.

Neon Bull, which opens a one-week run Friday at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, shares those August Winds attributes, and, as with the earlier film, it also looks at life on society’s fringes, is filled with eroticism and is presented in Portuguese (with English subtitles). Set in the world of vaquejada, a Brazilian rodeo in which cowboys on horseback try to pull fleeing bulls to the ground by their tails, Neon Bull mostly follows what you initially believe to be a family: Iremar (Juliano Cazarré), who cleans pens and chalks the bulls’ tails before they enter the arena; Galega (Maeve Jinkings), the rodeo’s truck driver by day and exotic dancer by night; and her (but not Iremar’s) daughter Cacá (Alyne Santana), who is clearly bored living among the adults and livestock.

In the early scenes, everything is so colorful and beautifully shot by Diego Garcia (Cemetery of Splendor) that it’s not really bothersome that nothing much is happening. That is just Mascaro reeling you in. As he establishes his characters—who, unlike the August Winds cast members, are played by actual known actors in Brazil—you find yourself practically waving away the dust and sniffing the manure surrounding them.

We learn that Iremar dreams of becoming a tailor; he makes the sexy costumes Galega wears onstage. And then, like a chef slowly turning up the fire, Mascaro layers in the sex between the animals, human and otherwise. Besides Iremar’s costumes, Galega gyrates in boots that resemble hooves and a horse-head mask. The Brazilian later gives herself a Brazilian and receives oral pleasures from Junior (Vinícius de Oliveira), a newly arrived rodeo hand obsessed with his looks. Iremar gets it on with a very pregnant security guard/cologne saleswoman in a scene near the end of the picture that surely would have earned Neon Bull an NC-17 in the puritanical States.

In passing, as opposed to in an exploitative way, there are scenes in which penises and ball sacks of men and farm animals are seen—indeed, there are more dicks than at the annual Gathering of the Richards. A glitzy horse auction plays like a whore auction. A shirtless man gives a reclining equine the kind of intimate massage one pays good money for in Little Saigon. I don’t read Portuguese, but I half suspect there must have been a disclaimer at the end of the credits stating, “No horse was actually jerked off to completion in the making of this motion picture.”

So, yeah, that happens.

My suspicion is Mascaro is up to more than, at best, titillating for the sake of titillating or, at worst, buttering up the world for bestiality. A man hangs out his willy and pisses on a tree, not too long after a cow unleashes a flood of urine in a pen. A bull mounts a cow in the background of one scene not too long before a dude mounts a chick. We are all animals.

Into this very macho rodeo world, Mascaro adds a fascinating twist by putting men in traditional women’s roles (seamstress, the vain) and vice versa (security guard, the horny). I can’t wait to see his next documentary that is not a documentary.

Boi Neon (Neon Bull) was directed by Gabriel Mascaro; written by Mascaro, Marcelo Gomes, Cesar Turim and Daniel Bandeira; and stars Juliano Cazarre, Maeve Jinkings, Alyne Santana, Carlos Pessoa and Vinícius de Oliveira. Screening at the Frida Cinema, 305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana; Fri., 11:30 p.m. $8-$10.

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