We Are The Flesh (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 80 minutes approx.
Arthouse cinema is arguably the most polarising subgenre in film, even creating divisions among discerning cineastes with wider tastes than mainstream movie viewers. Debutant writer-director Emiliano Rocha Minter has made a film that has people talking although perhaps some are not so sure what it is they are talking about.
Set in an apparent post-apocalyptic Mexico, Mariano (Noé Hernández) is hiding out in a derelict building, turning human and animal remains into slop which he somehow is able to distil into a potent drink that can only be imbibed a few drops at a time. Clearly a victim of cabin fever, his solitude is broken by the arrival of teenage brother and sister Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli) seeking refuge.
Mariano lets them stay on the proviso they work for him in return for food and board. At first they help Mariano construct a catacomb like dwelling out of wood, sticky tape and cardboard but gradually he encourages the siblings to copulate for his pleasure. Mariano however dies while watching this, leaving the teens to live as per their own will in the hideout.
As you can tell from that synopsis, which is really less a plot summary and a straight up description of what actually happens in the first 40 minutes. This is not the most comfortable film, although even this is a rather weak way to describe it. Boundaries are pushed, the unfilmable is filmed and almost every sensibility will be offended in this 80-minute celebration of perversity and depravity.
But, as an arthouse film perhaps Minter is not deliberately trying to shock us with explicit sexual imagery, visceral horror and psychedelic journeys into the darker reaches of unbridled human desires – perhaps there is a message behind it all, a meaning or subtext relative to a side of Mexican culture unknown to us.
It is equally likely that this is a load of pretentious tosh and Minter is trolling the pseuds too afraid to admit when they are confused and this is his Emperor’s New Clothes for the 21st century. The truth is We Are The Flesh is all of these things and then some; it will separate the intellectual wheat from the sham chaff, it will have a deeper resonance with those who appreciate the esoteric and it will bore and confuse the masses.
What is undeniable is the impactful statement made with this debut, positing Minter as a unique and challenging new voice in arthouse cinema. Whether he is being bold by putting on screen the things he has or whether he is simply masquerading porn as art, the DNA of a new strain of post-modern movie making can be found in the presentation of this film which, if harnessed properly, could be the next game changer.
Of course, this will remain a movement of limited appeal but Minter has expressed no desire to pander to the mainstream. The lack of actual plot here is deliberate, a functional framework around which Minter builds his world of indulgence in the name of true freedom. The characters are defined by their actions, which are superficially oblique but no doubt are symbolic in their own way.
Mariano is a remarkable creation in that he is aesthetically the human embodiment of the devil with his evil eyes, salacious rictus grin and hirsute appearance, resembling the sort of villain silent star Lon Chaney would transform himself into. Decidedly creepy and unsettling the siblings still acquiesce to his control and his sermons about abandoning all shackles of convention in the search of true inner freedom.
Having somehow connected with Fauna and got into the head of a frustrated Lucio, the coercion into sexual abandonment is made easier. The actual copulation is shot through an infrared heat camera, giving us a rare glimpse of the body heating up during intercourse. Inventive and different, and maybe even enough to distract us from the fact this is a brother and sister we are watching.
This is the actual turning point of the film, and henceforth the rules are defenestrated and surrealism takes over, resulting in a nightmarish exploration of wanton decadence without rhyme or reason. Every film has an ending and this film certainly has one, but it offers nothing in the way of an explanation – in fact it goes the other way and leaves us even more confused.
Quite often when a film is so left of centre one has to wonder if the cast are actually on the same wavelength as its creator, and judging by the interviews in the Blu-ray extras, apparently the stars are. María Evoli is extremely game to give herself over to Minter’s explicit whims as she does, and despite Fauna’s hedonistic evolution there is an odd feeling of honesty about her portrayal.
It is the mesmerising performance of Noé Hernández that is the real sensation. As the disturbingly memorable Mariano, his twisted facial features exude a demonic aura and palpable grubby unpleasantness befitting a person of such lascivious perversion. He is both a twisted preacher and a seer of righteous liberty, whose truth he wants others to share.
Holding the film together and keeping most of us fixated on the screen for the duration is the presentation, with each frame lovingly captured through the lens of Yollotl Alvarado’s camera. The mise-en-scene is as much a core facet of the film’s schizophrenic personality as the characters, a pervasive tone of provocation running throughout, whether the scene is starkly minimalist or sexually charged.
In the final analysis, any score I give We Are The Flesh won’t do it justice simply because it is a hard film to grade. I didn’t hate it yet I didn’t understand it. It might prove too arcane even for lofty cinephiles, yet its boldness and originality needs to be appreciated.
A very tough sell – even Mariano admits “This is not your average party”.
2.0 LPCM Stereo
5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
Virgine Sélavy on We Are The Flesh
Behind The Scenes Stills Gallery
Rating – ** ½ (or maybe ***, I really don’t know)
Man In Black