This review of King Car is part of our coverage of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.
If 2021 is improving upon 2020 in any meaningful way, it’s in the fact that there are not one, but two horny car movies this year. What is sure to make a fitting double feature alongside Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane, is Renata Pinheiro‘s Brazilian film King Car: an ill-fated love story between a boy and his engine, in which industrial worship begets a kind of inherent primality.
Uno (Luciano Pedro Jr.) was born into a family of car-lovers. In fact, he was literally born in a car thanks to his father’s taxi service. However, Uno’s connection to cars runs deeper than just a familial fixation — he has the uncanny ability to speak with automobiles. But after a tragic accident involving his mother, Uno grows into a young man with a desire to turn away from that which is inseparably a part of his DNA. When he reveals to his father his college plans to study agroforestry and agroecology, his father is naturally furious with him. So, Uno leaves home to stay in the good graces of his agricultural commune friends for the time being.
That is, until a bizarre new law in Brazil forces cars older than fifteen years off the road, and Uno is compelled back into the fold. He teams up with his outcast uncle Zé (Matheus Nachtergaele), who upgrades junkyard rejects into tricked-out rides, and Zé’s car-fetishist, performance artist friend Mercedes (Jules Elting). The latter wears a pair of metallic, light-up panties with a red stamp attached to the crotch that affixes the word “dead” onto any monument she straddles and onto “symbols that propagate male power” (another idea introduced in the film that is left to hang largely on the fringes). Using Uno’s automotive communication powers, the three of them commence the King Car’s service: sprucing up old vehicles into futuristic, sentient machines in order to keep them on the streets and away from the junkyard permanently. However, this draws ire from Uno’s agriculture collectivist friend Amora (Clara Pinheiro), despite Uno’s rosy intentions for his cars and his conflicting environmentalist ideals. What starts off as an earnest attempt to save beloved machines deserving of a second life devolves into a cultish reverence of cars and the fusion between man and machine — a statement meant to illustrate the star-crossed love affair between humans and industrialization.
“We haven’t changed,” a character tells a crowd of onlookers at one point. He’s referencing the earliest humans’ first association with machinery, in which a rock to crack open nuts became not a tool, but an extension of our personhood. Such ideas establish the basis of King Car; a strange, cyberpunk-lite genre oddity profuse with gorgeous, high-octane imagery and half-formed statements about sustainability and environmentalism (from a script co-penned by Pinheiro alongside Sergio Oliveira and Leo Pyrata) that falls short of engaging with them significantly.
Though gifted with some steamy, woman-on-car climaxing evocative of Sundance 2020’s amusement park ride romance Jumbo, King Car has more on its mind than just sex. Granted, it engages with these ideas in a mostly surface-level way, seemingly opting out of committing to a concrete statement among its hodgepodge of provocative artistic elements and themes. Such an end product leaves the viewer with a mostly tenuous grasp on exactly what the filmmakers are trying to say in regards to the future of environmentalism, and the narrative arc similarly leaves a lot to be desired. The story’s central conflict never quite escalates to anything that maintains the sense of dread that it begins building to, instead coasting along ho-hum into act three with our characters still sans any tangible danger — even when they’re in the thick of it.
Still, the visuals are nothing to complain about. Fernando Lockett‘s equal parts sleazy, shiny cinematography effortlessly mingling between chrome and crud, while Karen Araújo‘s production design invokes a vague sense of looming technological dystopia while grounding things very much in reality. It’s another way of visualizing that the dystopia is, perhaps, already here, but ultimately, King Car is more a collection of ideas and lustful notions about people, the planet, and industry than a strong assertion on all three of them. That said, it still takes you on one hell of a ride.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival