(A.k.a. TENEMOS LA CARNE)
Although it's never explained explicitly in writer-director Emiliano Rocha Minter's film, the world inhabited by its three protagonists is one that's set in post-apocalyptic times. Within this setting we first meet Mariano (Noe Hernandez), a man living in squalor in his apartment and who appears to have been driven insane by loneliness. His primary pastime is distilling homemade booze.
His solitude is interrupted when teenage siblings Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (Maria Evoli) stumble upon his residence. They tell him of how they've been wandering the deserted streets outside, searching for a home, for ages. Suggesting they'd like to benefit from Mariano's hospitality for a while, they agree to his terms - eat what he provides for them, and help him to transform his home into a Paper Mache imitation of a cave -while barely remarking upon his frankly demented visage.
A steady diet of unidentifiable stodge and raw eggs keeps the siblings physically weak; Mariano remains vague whenever they ask where he's getting his food from, and what he gives his mystery providers in return.
As time goes by, Mariano begins to work on Lucio. He challenges his libido by asking him why he hasn't tried to bed Fauna. Mariano recognises the feisty girl as a sexually precocious being, and reasons that it's only societal conditioning that stops Lucio from finding her attractive. As work on Mariano's apartment continues and the dwelling takes on an increasingly vaginal aesthetic, the crazed man keeps goading Lucio, urging him to cross the moral line and bed Fauna.
Will Lucio succumb to Mariano's persuasion? And, if so, what will the repercussions be for all concerned?
WE ARE THE FLESH is Mexican-French co-production and, unsurprisingly given both countries' penchant for confrontational art cinema, doesn't shy away from explicit detail. A graphic blowjob here; a fatal cum-shot there (a visual gag making true on the French perception of an orgasm being like "a little death"),; the suggestion of necrophilia; and even one character squatting over another, leaking their menstrual blood into the other's open mouth ... Minter isn't inclined to hold back.
All of which may sound outrageous, pornographic even. And yet WE ARE THE FLESH comes wrapped in such arty pretensions that it's difficult to find any of it shocking. A deliberate pace, sparse use of dialogue and a script which - when it does call for characters to speak - spouts such philosophies as "there's no such thing as love, only demonstrations of love", ensure that those buying into this in the hope of a quick wank will find they have their work cut out.
The arthouse brigade are better served. From the film's sombre tone and lack of overt explanation, to its considered set design and expressive silence, the film's simplistic beauty is perhaps secondary to the messages being conveyed by Minter. The womb-like cave that Mariano has the kids help him build, thus cocooning them in a world where they're free to indulge in his darkest fantasies, is hardly subtle. Characters sitting in vagina-like tunnels while curled up in foetal positions can't be accused of understatement either. But such images are effective. Isolation breeds insanity. Sexual laws only exist to prey on our conscience. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and to belong to one is the be-all-end-all. Liberation achieves rebirth. Away from the eyes of society, man is free to wallow in inherent depravity. None of what's on offer may be revelatory, but the forthright manner in which such themes are covered is rather hypnotic.
The plot is thin and the film essentially becomes a succession of set-pieces. These hold the attention well (though it's worth pointing out the film is only 79 minutes in length), and the shift from dystopian drama to full-blooded horror film - including a gory throat-slashing and a nightmarish orgy sequence - is deftly handled. Esteban Aldrete's brooding, pulsating score deserves a special mention with regards to helping set the film's tone.
A twist ending feels contrived, and will undoubtedly nark its fair share of viewers. I imagine Hernandez's theatrical performance will divide audiences too. Is it a tour-de-force of fearless role play, or is he hamming it up in the manner that unwitting students do in drama class - you know, when their teacher tells them to take to the floor and explore their inner tree, etc? I'm going with the latter, although that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy this bravura display of sweaty overacting.
I'm not sure WE ARE THE FLESH is as provocative as Minter clearly strives for it to be. It's highly stylised veneer perhaps robs it of true shock factor, while a welcome strain of humour throughout ensures the drama is never too heavy-going, too oppressive. Minter's challenging of societal norms and our concepts of family are perhaps a little too broadly drawn to provide real food for thought.
But WE ARE THE FLESH delivers as an original, fresh and rather plucky piece of modern cinema. I enjoyed it.
WE ARE THE FLESH is being released on UK DVD and blu-ray by Arrow Video. It's been passed fully uncut by the BBFC. We were sent a screener of the blu-ray disc to review. Shot on a Red Epic camera, the transition to blu-ray is pretty seamless here. This 1080p HD transfer proffers strong visuals which convey colour and detail very well. There are no compression issues to speak of. The main ratio is 1.66:1 but there are segments that change to 2.35:1, 1.85:1 and even - during one sex scene set to a pop song - 1.33:1.
Spanish audio comes in options of 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. Both won't give you any problems: they're healthy, evenly balanced affairs. The former doesn't have many opportunities to really flex its muscles, to be honest, but it's still a perfectly good effort. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. There is no scene selection option but the film is equipped with 6 remote-accessible chapter stops.
Bonus features begin with two short films from Minter.
2013's DENTRO is shot in black-and-white and is an intriguing 12-minute affair, focusing on two young men working together in the woods to build something of mystery. Languid in pace and light on dialogue, like the main feature, DENTRO seeks artistic weight from its beguiling visuals.
2014's VIDEOHOME, meanwhile, is a slick 11-minute montage of several male characters in their respective homes, whiling their free time away in various ways: playing the guitar, struggling to lift weights, stretching the foreskin, and so on. There's no dialogue and no conclusion to this, the only analogy being - possibly - that we are akin to ants racing aimlessly around a bowl of porridge, such is the futility of our existence.
Next up is a highly articulate, well-presented (and spoiler-heavy) 36-minute visual essay on the film from critic Virginie Selavy, who wrote a glowing review for the film in "Electric Sheep" magazine. Describing the film as "theatre of cruelty", citing Alexandro Jodorowsky and the Marquis de Sade as its primary influences, she dissects key scenes and talks about how "sex, birth and death are intimately linked". This is an excellent companion piece to the film and comes highly recommended.
Minter is on hand for an enjoyable, candid 18-minute interview about the process of writing, designing and shooting the film. He's a young looking fellow, which took me by surprise for some reason, and is prone to wearing sunglasses indoors. I'm not going to hold that against him ...
The three principal players turn up next, all discussing their characters and experiences on the shoot with enthusiasm. Hernandez is given 20 minutes of screen time; Evoli and Gamaliel get 13 minutes each. Praise is heaped upon Minter, of course. Issues of sex and the film's themes are mulled over in open fashion. Hernandez's grin is almost as wide in reality as it is on film. Gamaliel is barely recognisable without the full head of curly locks he sported in the film.
Of the interviews above, all except the Evoli one are conducted in Spanish with English subtitles. Evoli's interview is conducted in English.
An adroitly edited 89-second trailer follows.
Finally we get a handsomely mounted gallery of 30 behind-the-scenes photos. The shoot appears to have been a jovial one.
Although unavailable for review purposes, this release also comes with double-sided reversible cover artwork and - in the first pressing only - an illustrated collectors' booklet featuring an essay by Anton Bitel and notes from one of the film's producers.
WE ARE THE FLESH won't be for everyone. But if you like films that challenge you to think about their themes, as opposed to ones that handily spell everything out for you, then this may well be worth your time. It's served very well by Arrow's impressive blu-ray.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|