King Car is more jester than royalty, a soft-bellied and derivative exercise in empty shock.
New Brazilian feature Carro Rei (King Car) is aggressively weird, the kind of film that bends over backward to announce its singularity. Director/co-writer Renata Pinheiro is working in a vein similar to early Quentin Dupieux, presenting big ideas in an overly flashy package that distracts from rather than enriches its overall themes. Perhaps it’s foolish to expect subtlety from a movie whose protagonist, automotive communicator Uno (Luciano Pedro Jr.) — yes, he literally can talk to cars — rejects motorized transportation after witnessing the death of his mother at the hands of the taxicab in which he was born. A potential career in agriculture is sidelined by family illness, leading Uno to embrace the mechanical once more in an effort to save his father’s taxi business, which has come under fire for its use of cabs older than 15 years, recently banned by the local government. If you think this sounds needlessly complicated, that description doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this story, which also includes a possibly developmentally disabled uncle who loves to pole dance, a performance artist who favors vaginal rebellion, and the titular vehicle itself, which becomes something of a cult leader and attempts to overthrow the ruling class with the help of his human disciples.
The sheer ambition on display is admittedly admirable, but it’s hard to determine what Pinheiro is saying on any one topic. Power as a corrupting force? The enslavement of the working class? The disparity between the haves and the have-nots? Nature vs. technology? All get a workout, but none in a way that is profound or meaningful. For every scene that works — such as a choreographed dance number in which a handful of mechanics start moving robotically in sync with engine noises while swigging transmission fluid — there are three others that fall flat simply because of their heavy-handedness. Uno’s uncle bluntly states that technology has been bred into our DNA ever since man first picked up a stone and used it as a tool. “Are we human? Or are we simply machines, and these devices our offspring?” he states while gesturing toward a car. His character proceeds to literally devolve throughout the film, taking on the mannerisms of an ape, until he is simply beating his chest and grunting at film’s end. It’s an idea that’s clever enough in theory, but to what end? Some nebulous articulation that technology has stopped evolution dead in its tracks, humanity simply willing victims enslaved to its machines? That doesn’t really gibe with the subplot where advancements in agriculture ultimately save humanity, which would imply that technology can in fact be used positively, but it’s obvious that no sort of careful thought or effort was put into this other than, “Wouldn’t it be cool if a woman stamped the word ‘Dead’ on her boyfriend — who is a car, mind you — with menstrual blood?” Large chunks of this film also appear to be missing, connective tissue necessary to explain the escalation of events, especially in the movie’s final third — yet there is a lengthy scene where two characters robotically discuss the virtues of phosphorous, so thank God for that. Perhaps more could be forgiven if even Carro Rei’s edginess didn’t feel quite so secondhand. Cronenberg made Crash and Cameron Diaz fucked a car in The Counselor; King Car isn’t shocking anyone with its car-nal passions. Somewhere, a cheetah named Raul weeps.
Originally published as part of IFFR 2021 — Dispatch 4.