The painter plays the poet in Gabriel Mascaro's Neon Bull, a conceptually sound and superficially daring film whose hollowness is both highlighted and elevated by its stylistic beauty. Mascaro uses his flair for striking imagery combined with the verisimilitude established by an otherwise-naturalistic mise-en-scene to legitimize the down-and-dirty travelling culture he depicts here, but if the film never sinks into poverty porn, there's a notable dissonance between topic and treatment. For all that each gorgeous tapestry of the make-do lifestyle may compel the viewer, marvelling at Mascaro's innovation and incisiveness in his lighting and blocking schemes, there's no sense that the film is achieving its purpose of illuminating this lifestyle, hitherto largely unexplored in cinema. Is it all merely a sumptuous distraction from the fact that Neon Bull actually illuminates very little on this subject, or would the film be more expressive were all its thematic and artistic intentions synchronized? One examines the action, lulled by its realistic rhythms and its honesty, corrosive yet charming; one then yearns for a deeper meaning to this action, and, upon discovering none, attempts to settle into this earnest, sensitive character piece; one's attempts are interrupted by Mascaro's insistence on putting style before substance - as crude a statement as that has now become in this medium, its relevance has not diminished over time. Explicit scenes of sex are wonderfully frank and unabashed, though they reveal practically nothing about the characters. The prevalence of sex and nudity in even the most mundane of scenes makes a more piquant, prescient point, though only slightly. The principal take-away from Neon Bull is that there's a lot to look at here, but only a little to actually take away.