Paris-based Memento Films Artscope, the sales agent’s enterprising world cinema arthouse label, has acquired international rights to “Neon Bull,” the second fiction feature from Gabriel Mascaro, a leading light on Pernambuco’s often distinctive Recife indie film scene in North-East Brazil.
Now in post-production, “Neon Bull” aims for a fall premiere. Jean-Thomas’ Bernardini’s Imovision, one of Brazil’s leading arthouse distributors, will handle “Neon Bull’s” domestic release.
World premiering in International Competition at Locarno last August to upbeat reviews, Mascaro’s fiction feature debut “August Winds,” a coastal village-set mix of fiction and moments of documentary, won a special mention at Locarno. It then traveled to over 50 festivals – San Sebastian, Hamptons, BFI London Fest, Thessaloniki, AFI Fest — establishing Mascaro as a director to track.
Lead produced like “August Winds” by Rachel Ellis at Recife-based Desvia Films, “Neon Bull” (aka “Bull Down”), a singular aspirational drama, picks up on the huge changes that are sweeping rural Brazil but, as in much of the emerging world, endow its inhabitants with aspirations largely out of synch with the traditions still governing their daily lives.
“Neon Bull,” for instance, centers on Iremar, a “vaquiero” stable hand who feeds and cares for bulls at Vaquejadas, a traditional rodeo. Home is the truck used to transport the bulls from show to show that he shares with co-workers Galega, an exotic dancer; Caca, her cheeky daughter; and Ze, his rotund compadre in the bull pen. They are a makeshift but close-knit family.
But the North-East’s booming clothing industry has stirred news ambitions in Iremar, filling him with dreams of pattern cutting, sequins and exquisite fabrics as he mentally assembles his latest sexy fashion designs.
Also written by Mascaro, “Neon Bull” stars Juliano Casare, the police inspector of Fernando Coimbra’s “The Wolf Behind the Door,” as Iremar. Maeve Jinkings (“Neighboring Sounds,” “Once Upon a Time Veronica”) plays Galega.
Beyond its established name actors, in another sign of a step-up in scale for Mascaro, “Neon Bull” has drawn down international co-production: Desvia produces with Saravai Vinay at Motevideo’s Malbicho’s and Viking Films’ Marlene Slot in the Netherlands. Supported by Brazil’s ANCINE Film-TV board, Uruguay’s ICAU agency, the Netherlands’ Hubert Bals Plus and regional film fund Funcultura Pernambuco, “Bull Down!” shot in March-April in Pernambuco and Paraiba. Canal Brasil, a Brazilian content pay TV channel, also co-produces.
“I am very pleased to expand the Artscope label with such a beautiful film,” said Artscope’s Sata Cissokho. “ ‘Neon Bull’ takes you on an hypnotic journey through rural Brazil. There is something dreamlike in both the aesthetic and the story itself. I think Gabriel found the perfect tone and balance between this subtlety and the roughness of the rural background. We were immediately taken by the film and were happy to be involved from the very first cut we saw.”
She added: I have no doubts that ‘Neon Bull’ will both intrigue and seduce, as well as draw more attention to the new Brazilian wave coming from Recife.”
For Ellis, “Neon Bull” “fits perfectly within Artscope’s portfolio. We greatly admire the directors and films that Artscope represents and we believe that the partnership will result in a fantastic international career for the film and lots of visibility for Gabriel.”
“I am honored to be part of the Memento/Artscope label and to see my film besides so many other directors that I admire. I am very excited about what the next few months will bring,” Mascaro said.
Helmed by Chaitanya Tamhane, “Court,” which Artscope also bought under Cissokho, won a Venice Lion of the Future Award and a Venice Horizons Award for best film, plus multiple other fest plaudits. A Zeitgeist Films release for the U.S., it also took best feature at India’s National Film Awards.
Further Artscope pickups from Latin America include “The Delay,” from Uruguay’s Rodrigo Pla, which took Berlin 2012’s Ecumenical Jury prize Alejandro Fadel’s Cannes Critics’ Week winner “The Wild Ones.”
Though still not on most of the industry’s radar, Brazilian Pernambuco is building an impressive corpus of movies shot in and often produced or co-financed out of the North-East Brazil state: “Neighboring Sounds,” “Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica,” “August Winds,” “Blue Blood,” “Brazilian Dream.” Sometimes docu-fiction hybrids, almost all explore the human legacy of modernization and excel in a redolent sense of milieu.