There are certainly films that challenge with their content. That’s a no-brainer to anyone who has the slightest interest in film. Usually, those films come from outside the “safe” confines of the mainstream. Again, a no-brainer. Well, it seems that Mexican filmmaker Emiliano Rocha Minter has you beat with his début film We Are the Flesh (aka Tenemos La Carne), which recently screened at Fantasia 2016. Minter seems to have divided audiences with something that has you asking just what the f*ck you’re watching almost immediately. But, as with some transgressive films, there’s something to glean if you stick with it.
A pair of siblings Lucio and Fauna (Diego Gamaliel and María Evoli, respectively) wander a ruined city in search of food and shelter. The siblings find both in an abandoned building, home to a vagrant named Mariano (Noé Hernández). Mariano offers to take them in, under certain conditions, the primary being to help Mariano turn the building into a cavern-like environment. What follows is an increasingly bizarre mixture of incest, sex and murder.
If you thought the film opening to the sound of heavy breathing, cutting to Mariano constructing a distiller and creating liquor from mouldy bread, to Mariano beating on a drum while intoxicated and passing out was weird, We Are the Flesh only gets more off-the-wall. The senses, visually and aurally, are obviously king for this film. The camerawork is both organic and insane. From a mixture of snaking shots of the maze that our three characters inhabit, to turning the world upside down in moments of mayhem, Minter and cinematographer Yollótl Alvarado pull off some truly captivating shots. This is coupled with the film’s palette, which begins desaturated, dark and barely discernible (making things like fire leap out from the screen), but blossoms into a mix of reds, blues and yellows whenever the more strange elements take hold. The sound work also pushes the film. One shot right after Mariano discovers the siblings where he beats an egg as the camera switches between and pushes in on Lucio and Fauna looking on easily doubles as a ticking timer as you wait for Mariano to speak. Or the sound of packing tape being the only sound as the trio construct Mariano’s structure. The sound of the taping seemingly works to drive you mad until Mariano takes his mysterious narcotic liquid. Then the sound melts into the background as relief for Mariano (and the audience) washes over. Or, it could be that Lucio and Fauna had just stopped to watch Mariano. It’s an amazing form of misdirection. And again, as things progress, the sound plays a big part in the surrealist imagery. While sparse, the use of Esteban Aldrete’s music heightens the experience, particularly when the more perverse scenes are involved. Want a slow-motion orgy set to classical piano? You got it.
The other big plus is Hernández’s amazing turn as Mariano. He seemingly straddles the line between being sinister impishness and enlightened saviour with ease. His almost whispered poetic ramblings (loved the “solitude” scene) are as fascinating as his insane primal beatings of the drum. His outward transformation from a dirty derelict to a clean-shaven showman is a both a testament to Hernández’s skills, as well as Minter’s writing. And how can you not love that ear-to-ear grin? As for Evoli, she turns in a fun performance as Fauna. Carefree on one hand, almost hedonistic on the other. Gamaliel contrasts Evoli’s performance as the serious but caring sibling, but could also be seen as representing society’s morality or repressed urges, as he vehemently refuses to engage in Evoli’s sexual escapades.
And here’s where the film gets weird. For one thing, we have graphic scenes of incest and masturbation, including a very explicit scene of Fauna performing oral sex on Lucio while Mariano watches. It’s borderline pornographic, which admittedly isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Then there’s a scene of period blood being dropped into Lucio’s open mouth, shots of the siblings naked as they lie in separate parts of the “womb” that they’ve created as the camera rotates, urination, the aforementioned orgy leading up to the film’s finale, and so on. I don’t know about you, but all three principal actors deserve kudos for “baring it all” in this Freudian dream brought to life. And yes, there are horror elements, such as the scene involving the capture and eventual murder of a Mexican soldier. But thanks to what had preceded them, the moments of horror are jarring and borderline disturbing. I assume that’s the aim of Minter, but bottom line, this is definitely not your typical horror film. As such, the audience for this will be limited.
To be honest, I still don’t know what to make of We Are the Flesh. Certainly, this is one hell of way to make a big splash for your first film. There’s no doubt about that. The camerawork, use of colour, sound and acting are all exceptionally well done. The story is certainly challenging, as is the use of breaking societal taboos. Some will certainly be offended, and others frustrated. Is it a provocative, transgressive film that has social commentary, or a shameless excuse to engage in pornography? Again, I don’t know. I suppose that We Are the Flesh is one of those films that you have to experience yourself. If you’re in the mood for something that challenges, definitely do give it a watch.
The film screened at the ongoing Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.