J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

TIFF ’17: Motorrad

The politics of Easy Rider and Electric Glide in Blue are radically different, but the endings are oddly similar. Two wheels are generally a hard mode of transportation in the movies, but what Hugo faces with his brother’s dirt bike running mates is something else entirely. The machete-wielding rival bikers are real enough, but there is something ominously uncanny going on just outside our range of perception in Vincente Amorim’s incredibly strange Motorrad (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

It’s not exactly Mad Max out there yet, but in Hugo’s provincial corner of Brazil, a carburetor is worth risking your life for. Rather awkwardly, the nebbish mechanic is busted red-handed trying to lift one from the body shop run by Paula’s grandfather (or whoever). Much to his surprise, she lets him go, with the part, after tending to a burn on his palm. As a result, Hugo is able to invite himself along when his brother Ricardo lights off on a road trip with some friends and dodgy acquaintances. Things get even better when they stumble across the very same Paula broken-down on a remote mountain trail. She will take them even further off the beaten path, which makes them sitting ducks when a black-clad gang of psychotic bikers starts picking them off, one by one.

Motorrad sounds like a simplistically conventional exploitation movie, but there is a lot more going on than initially meets the eye. Plus, the vibe is indescribably out-there. Clearly, Amorim is processing disparate influences, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, perhaps Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and most of Jodorowsky’s filmography. The tone is weirdly unsettling, even though his sprawling visuals are frequently quite beautiful. Frankly, this film is light-years removed from Amorim’s moral dramas, such as Good and Dirty Hearts.

Therefore, it looks primed for cult-status, provided enough people see it at Toronto to build word-of-mouth momentum. Of course, it is guaranteed to be divisive, because of the curve-balls that come out of left field, but cineastes should still give all the credit in the world to the craftsmanship of Amorim, cinematographer Gustavo Hadba, and editor Lucas Gonzaga. This is an extraordinary looking field, but it is also pretty intense on a grungy genre level.

As Hugo, Guilherme Prates is a credibly gawky everyman and Brazilian TV regular Carla Salle is ambiguously seductive as the mysterious Paula, but this is not the sort of film that will launch actors to superstardom. This is Amorim’s show—and he constantly lets the bikes and harsh landscape upstage his competent ensemble.

As motorcycle movies go, Motorrad might just give Easy Rider a ride for its money (but Glide still takes the honors). It is one of the strangest films of the year, yet it also fulfills its slasher horror movie duties. Highly recommended for adventurous audiences, Motorrad screens again tomorrow (9/13) and Saturday (9/16), as part of this year’s TIFF.

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