There are films which fall neatly into categories, easily described and understood, the delight of conservative audiences who prefer to know exactly what they will get when they pay for a ticket and the marketing teams who are tasked with selling those films to the cinema chains. Tenemos la carne (We Are the Flesh) is not such a film, an experience rather than a movie, and rarely a pleasant one.
Feature debut of writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter, it is wilfully uncooperative and abstract, challenging and daring, with fearless performances from the three principals who between them carry almost the entirety of the film, Noé Hernández, the demanding and corrupt master of the strange environment in which events unfold, and María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel as the two once-innocent intruders who seek shelter.
The older man, Mariano, offers the siblings a place to stay but from the outset it is apparent that he is not to be trusted yet they have no other choice; he questions them but offers them nothing, but demands from them obedience to the point of slavery, first in working on the abandoned building which they share then forcing them to play out his fantasies, taking pleasure from their humiliation and degradation.
A perverse and controlling bully, Mariano does everything with passion, whether crafting or smashing a table, warming his hands by the fire or beating a drum. In the early scenes alone it appears he may be pre-lingual or has lost the skill of language, a meaningless vestige of a world which no longer exists, his drumming an expression of primal force, of regression, as in Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, but the arrival of Fauna and Lucio shows him to be a master orator and manipulator.
Seeing himself as a shaman, a visionary, a prophet, his madness the only meaning left in the world, there is a purpose to Mariano’s actions but it is known only to him as he first poisons Fauna, forcing Lucio to eat the same meat as well before he will offer the antidote before cajoling them to further depravity.
An enclosed film set entirely within the building which they are trying to reconstruct with cardboard and packing tape in some bizarre art installation, they have created their own world and only they exist within this cocoon where Mariano will force them to change. “Solitude drags you, forces you to come face to face with your darkest fantasies. And when nothing happens you stop being afraid of your most grotesque thoughts.”
An explicit and unflinching film, We Are the Flesh definitely sits in experimental territory one turn away from abject weirdsville, and while thirty years ago it would have guaranteed a late night Channel 4 red triangle screening these days that alone is insufficient to be worthy of note, if indeed it ever was, and while as extreme as last year’s Baskin it is neither as stylish, fantastical nor coherent.
Once corrupted, Fauna becomes insatiable even in the absence of Mariano, and moving on from incest there is necrophilia and murder and dancing, almost driven by a ticklist of taboos, a determination to be shocking for the sake of it. “This is not your average party,” Mariano extols before inviting his guests at the orgy to cannibalise him, but propelled by the horror of genitalia the end result makes those enfants terribles or earlier generations, Nekromantic and Zardoz, seem positively restrained.
Accompanied by a set of special features including the director’s short films Dentro and Videohome, both concerned with the same ideas of isolation and abstract observations of people, there are also interviews with cast and crew but most enlightening is an extended video essay by Virginie Sélavy of enlightening insight, positing that Rocha Minter “positions himself within a history of transgressive thinkers and artists.”
Discussing influences from Alejandro Jodorowsky to Biblical imagery and cycles of death and rebirth and cannibalism in Christian rites, she is correct in that We Are the Flesh is an “extreme sensory experience” designed to “shake up the aesthetic and moral preconceptions of the audience,” though this does not necessarily make it a good film.