"Rodeo drama" isn't the most popular cinematic subgenre, although the likes of "Junior Bonner" and "The Lusty Men" have proved that there's a lot of beauty and heartache among those bucking broncos. And now Gabriel Mascaro's "Neon Bull" joins the list of movies that treat dusty stalls as stages for small, sensitive stories.
Juliano Cazarré stars as Iremar, who works behind the scenes of a traveling show, wrangling cattle alongside sexy single mother Galega (Maeve Jinkings). The latter moonlights as an exotic dancer, and Iremar constructs her outfits, practicing for his dream job: tailoring.
Mascaro's more interested in character and setting than plot. His biggest narrative twist is the introduction of a new handler, Junior (Vinícius de Oliveira), who captures the affections of Galega and her daughter. Mostly, the film just yokes together a series of well-crafted moments, detailing the dreams and desires of people who spend their days doing something very different from what they'd prefer.
The scenes are slow and long, and steeped in metaphors specific to Northern Brazil, having to do with transitions from agrarian to industrial life. But "Neon Bull" is also intimate and poetic — whether Mascaro's showing Galega applying a painful self-waxing treatment or Iremar sketching his clothing designs on the naked pictures in a men's magazine.
The languid pace and barnyard earthiness won't be to everybody's taste, but it's hard to deny Mascaro's vision. Where some look at a rodeo and see sweat and dirt, he sees a poignant struggle, which he illustrates meticulously.
Not rated. In Portuguese with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.