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Cannibal: The clean plate club

No horror or gross-out comedy in director Manuel Martín Cuenca's new film. Just quiet, dazzling sequences of people eating people. Pass the Chianti.

In the new Spanish movie Cannibal, which opens Friday, director Manuel Martín Cuenca's approach to his subject matter is so austere it’s almost anorexic. Where a horror film or gross-out comedy might apply blood-drenched gluttony to scenes of butchery and flesh-eating, Cuenca opts for one quiet — and quietly dazzling — sequence involving a nude woman splayed on a table, followed by the off-screen thwack of a hatchet and then a single rivulet of blood spilling into a metal pan. (That sound also off-screen, an auditory suggestion of this killer’s seasoned professionalism).

This less-is-more strategy continues through the film’s first fifteen minutes or so, which also involves the refrigeration, frying and consumption of body parts, and a symbolic cleansing in a car wash. We also learn our protagonist is an old-school tailor, equally skilled at manipulating a large pair of fabric scissors as he is with a meat cleaver. He and the milieu of his existence are rendered with impeccable taste, clarity and calm. For a cannibal, he is especially appealing and fastidious.

Carlos is his name. He lives in Granada, in an apartment building near his one-man shop. He appears to have no interests outside of sewing suits and murdering for his supper. He is both sexually and religiously disturbed, somehow having conflated the ritual of communion with the routine eating of a fellow human. There is an older woman whom we mistake for his mother, but who turns out to be someone more mysterious, a confessor perhaps, or at least someone who tolerates Carlos’s special dietary needs. At any rate, Carlos can’t help attracting the attention of beautiful young women, even if he isn’t hungry. An upstairs neighbor comes on to him, and, after he dispenses with her (again, off-camera), the woman’s equally interested sister, Nina, shows up. Their relationship deepens, with hints of Carlos warming to the idea that he could love a woman without having to first sauté her.

After its hypnotic, exquisitely designed beginning, Cannibal advances at an admirably restrained but maddeningly stringent pace. Cuenca’s desire to scrub the film of any Jeffrey Dahmer-like tendencies — except for a couple of glimpses into Carlos’s well-stocked fridge — forces us to consider the possibility that the love of a good woman, as opposed to her flavorful thighs, will rehabilitate our sick hero.

There are a few subtle, humorous moments, which suggest a movie that could have been a bit lighter on its feet. But we are mostly kept waiting, nodding in appreciation of the filmmaker’s low boil technique while idly tapping our fingers at the dinner table, waiting for a main course that arrives fatally underdone.

This post originally appear on The Restless Critic.


Rustin Thompson is a filmmaker, film critic and indie radio deejay. He enjoys strong coffee, red wine, IPAs and his wife and grown children. He is comfortable with the fact he will never be rich, but grows petulant if he thinks too much about it.

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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jul 25, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Humanity continues its downward spiral into the sewer as immorality, greed, sloth and degradation are increasingly celebrated as "lifestyle choices." Ah yes, it's just "entertainment." But mainstreaming depravity makes it no less depraved, even as it becomes a more a "logical" choice for people with a hole in their soul. Congratulations Crosscut on making your "journalism" ever more appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Posted Fri, Jul 25, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey! Cannibalism might be an answer to climate change. Don't knock Crosscut. They are trying to save the world.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jul 25, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

For once little buddy Blue might be on to something. Think of it this way -- if a dude who eats nothing but broccoli and brown rice is a vegetarian, then it seems logical that a cannibal would be a humanitarian.

woofer

Posted Sun, Jul 27, 7:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Begging to differ with my reviewer colleague (a writer I admire): "a nude woman splayed on a table" may not be bloody, but the image is still "gross-out" violent and hardly "austere." The film it's in can't accurately be described as "admirably restrained" or "rendered with impeccable taste." Nor can the cannibal character who arranged the woman's naked limbs to his satisfaction be "especially appealing and fastidious." The same details the reviewer uses to support "nodding in appreciation" of this filmmaker leave me shaking my head in disgust at what seems like a witless (is there an idea in the filmmaker's mind?) depiction of violence against women, however artfully leisured in style. Axe-murder flicks sound refreshing by contrast: no pretensions to being "exquisitely designed."

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