Sunday 1 January 2017

We Are the Flesh (Mexico/France 2016: Dir Emiliano Rocha Minter)

Mariano, a lone man living in a squalid apartment (in a possibly post-apocalyptic near future, but nothing is explained), invites a young brother and sister to live with him, in return for helping him turn the flat into some kind of cave like dwelling. Mariano, who has manipulative, Charles Manson like tendencies, encourages the pair to lose their inhibitions (starting with that outmoded idea that siblings should never do the nasty with each other) and go through various degradations for him. Mariano is killed, only to be reborn for no specific reason, and the brother and sister pair eventually turn to murder as they cast off any remaining vestiges of morality.

“There’s no such thing as love. Only demonstrations of love” says Mariano at one point. Well we get quite a few (real) demonstrations of this in the course of We Are the Flesh (aka Tenemos La Carne), the debut feature from Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter, as well as ponderous dialogue, copious nudity, and a lot of primal screaming.

I have no idea what most of it’s about. My guess would have been that the whole thing is some impenetrable social satire on Mexican society (although the 26-year-old Minter has rejected this idea during interviews – in fact even he doesn’t really profess to know what’s going on).

The closest thematic comparison I could offer to assist any appreciation of We Are the Flesh would be Claude Faraldo’s dialogue free 1973 movie Themroc, in which a middle aged worker smashes up his flat, howls at his neighbours and has a relationship with his sister. And indeed there is a strong comparison between Michel Piccoli’s completely unhinged performance in that film and Noé Hernández’s as Mariano; he also reminded me of the Mexican director José Mojica Marins’ Coffin Joe character (especially the 2008 film Embodiment of Evil, where Joe aka Zé do Caixão encourages his disciples to give in to their wildest urges). 

But if Hernández could be described as brave in his acting, the performances of Diego Gamaliel and particularly Maria Evoli, as the brother and sister, have to be seen to be believed. Not only are they frequently naked, but they indulge in real sex acts (one wonder whether Minter has possibly seen any Gaspar Noé movies), a lot of slimy clambering about, and in one scene Evoli pees direct to camera. 

While this does feel like a now rather outdated attempt to shock the audience, it is directed with some flair and the art direction, with the flat gradually becoming a beautifully lit womb-like cavern, is very impressive for a film presumably with a limited budget. But while the movie starts off reasonably coherently, by the end, with its baffling final scenes, this writer was totally lost. I’m sure the director would be happy with that reaction, but unfortunately I found it an opaque, quite tiresome viewing experience which isn’t as shocking as it would like to be.

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