What is it with cars and surrealist films lately? Titane, The Noise of Engines—reviewed on this site—and now Brazil’s King Car have all contributed to this recent automotive zeitgeist. Think of King Car as Bacurau meets Cronenberg with heavy doses of political and social commentary. If all this seems like a film contorting in too many directions, director Renata Pinheiro somehow pulls off the remarkable feat.
In the small town of Caruaro, a woman gives birth in the backseat of a car. In addition to being born in a car, Uno’s (Luciano Pedro Jr.) father owns a fleet of taxis, Uno is taught to drive at a very young age, his mother dies in a car, and he narrowly avoids his own death by a car. It is as if the entire life cycle—from birth to maturity to death—unfolds through cars. And oh yes, no small detail, young Uno can communicate with cars.
We witness Uno grow into a young man and become interested in agronomy. He meets a young woman, Amora (Clara Pinheiro), with whom he shares a conviction for the organic and environmentally sustainable as political acts of resistance. But the inorganic, much to Amora’s disappointment, still calls Uno. He reconnects with his uncle, Zé (Matheus Nachtergaele), who lives in a junkyard surrounded by old cars. Zé is an intense individual. His movements are apelike, but he articulates very seductive transhumanist theories about the merging of humans with machines. For Zé, tools are extensions of human limbs. Uno also reconnects with a special car in Zé’s junkyard, the car that spoke to him in his youth, King Car.
Political elites come to Uno’s town and impose a law requiring the immediate disuse of any car fifteen years or older. King Car mobilizes Zé and Uno to refurbish older cars. King Car rallies the town around a fight for justice and dignity not only for the flesh and blood inhabitants but also the inorganic vehicles that are deemed by the government as disposable. While King Car’s followers become more militant and resolute in their actions, Amora’s focus is more toward an ethics of care and the organic.
King Car shares Bacurau’s aesthetics. And, admittedly, Bacurau’s characters and setting are more compelling; however, if we are to be frank, King Car’s themes and its political commentary is richer. Themes of gender, the isolation and atomism created by cars, the disposability of objects, the organic versus the inorganic, and how revolutionary movements can be coopted by capitalist interests all play a big role in King Car. But perhaps King Car’s most powerful message lies in what it proposes as the most potent form of resistance. King Car shows us how sometimes tending to one’s garden is not a passive activity, if anything, it is the most active and effective form of resistance.
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