Flesh Gore-don: We Are The Flesh Reviewed
, August 26th, 2016 09:00
Philippa Snow reviews Emiliano Rocha Minter’s transgressive Mexican arthouse shocker We Are The Flesh
I missed the first ten minutes of Mexican oddity We Are The Flesh as, shortly before I left my house for the screening, a woman at my local station was hit and killed by a train. Rather than being an accident, it was a suicide. It’s unclear which is the sadder of these two possibilities. Everyone present behaved as if they were annoyed by the incident rather than horrified, which I would find strange if I did not live here in London, where “due to a fatality” and “due to a person under a train” appear by now to sound no different to the assembled public than “leaves on the line.” Horror is cancelled out by repetition. Evil is often mundane, and long-term exposure to it makes it innocuous. By the time I arrived in the cinema, somebody onscreen was swallowing human meat.
Being a meditation on whether atrocities like cannibalism, incestuous rape and the murder of strangers are any more frightening or sinister than —say, for instance — the whole of the rest of our everyday lives, Emiliano Rocha Minter’s film appears to answer its question in the negative. It takes pleasure in the perverse in a way that’s still somehow depressing. A brother and sister wander into the home of a madman, who is building a structure that transforms his grimy apartment into something resembling a womb. She immediately folds to the man’s desires; he doesn’t. Inevitably it’s sex that changes the young man’s mind, and inevitably the makeshift ‘womb’ begins to look less like papier-mache, and more like human flesh — which, as you’d expect from a film in this genre, is also the only thing on the menu. There is necrophilia, which makes me wonder if The Quietus has me on a stranger beat than I’d realised. There is a long shot of a squatting, pissing girl. There is woman-on-woman rape. The sound design is dizzying, and it looks like a dream — I mean, like a nightmare, but dreamily-photographed. Played by Noé Hernández, the man who has entrapped and then seduced these adolescents looks like either the devil, or as if he’s wearing a mask from an Aphex Twin video. It’s entirely possible that he is the devil, but we never find out, so he could be anyone. There is some magic involved. There’s a resurrection, but no definite Christ.
I don’t need to tell you that the film is allegorical, though I’m also not equipped to tell you what it means, exactly; I don’t know that anyone is aside from the film’s director. I can tell you that he calls it “an intimate, intestinal political film.” This abstraction will not bother you if you’re somebody with (and here, I’m quoting Variety’s write-up) “a taste for this kind of thing,” where “this kind of thing” is a film that has incest, flesh-eating and little-to-no plot. In a word, We Are The Flesh is orgiastic. In two words, it’s nothing shocking. Like I say, the repetition of horror negates it. A young man fucks his sister; the sister drips her menstrual blood in her brother’s mouth; a woman takes her life. “A fatality.” This is not to say that We Are The Flesh is not a good or a beautiful or a disturbing film, in the same way that to grow used to violence is not to condone it: I only know that arriving at the screening, I felt as though my need to be titillated and the attitudes of the passengers on the train were two sides of one human, inhumane coin. I have probably seen more films reflecting the logic of psychosexual nightmares than I’ve had actual psychosexual nightmares, which is saying something. We Are The Flesh is part of the same subgenre as Gaspar Noe’s recent Love, delighting in splicing wild pornography with Real Cinema (“You got your RedTube in my art-house movie!” “You got your art-house movie in my RedTube!”). As with low light, the eye adjusts to pornography, and eventually — if you are bored enough — it loses its focus completely, so that what was once familiarly sexy is abstract. Then, pornography looks like it does in Japan, i.e. blurred. Like a reverse seeing-eye puzzle, one extended close-up of two thighs and a vagina looks at first like an innocuous image — two pink standing lamps, two satin drapes, the faces of two old crones, et cetera.
We Are The Flesh has so much flesh that the body itself begins to feel inert and un-sensual: seen too often, the duck becomes a rabbit, the rabbit a duck; the rape begins to resemble a fuck and is boring instead of distressing. A pussy becomes a line on a canvas; a hard-on tumescing, a stop-motion clip of an opening flower. Incest, when sound-tracked with adequate tenderness, can be romantic. All of this is as familiar and as repellant as — under the usual circumstances — your sister’s pheromones. It’s strange that I keep mistyping the title as We Are The New Flesh, when there’s nothing new about these kinds of shocks. Admittedly, Minter paints them far more stylishly than most, like the Helmut Newton picture where the model is vomiting. Flesh is smart and it’s gorgeous, but it wants to unnerve you. It reminds you that the evil and the perverse are pervasive. Your mileage may vary depending on whether or not this is news. “Horror is an abstraction,” the film’s director explained in an interview. “It could be anything, that’s why genre film has explored so much cinema but I did not think, not even for a second, I was making a genre film” — before adding, brilliantly: “I always feel that [We Are The Flesh] is about the family.” If the “family” he means is the whole of mankind, then he’s right.
We Are The Flesh is screening as part of Frightfest on the 29th of August