We Are What We Are

Spoiler Warning

I suspect part of the power of this film is, like the Japanese film/book, Audition, in being unaware of just what happens in a film. If you do not know what the twist is and haven’t watched the film then stop reading. For those aware of the focus of the film, carry on.

Spoiler Warning Over

I was eating a rather lovely cheese-cake whilst waiting through trailers for We Are What We Are to start. As soon as the patriarch of the family started spewing up black liquid in a shopping district, I was afraid I should have eaten the cheese-cake sooner.

I needn’t have worried because nothing truly gory happened for half an hour and, on screen, the cleaners removed the body and cleaned the mess anyway.

After the death of the father, a family of cannibals, mother, sister and two brothers in Mexico City, must find a victim to complete a mysterious ritual. The eldest son finds the mantle of bread-winner hard especially with the death of father leaving him the task of getting that victim.

The family at the centre of We Are What We Are

This is a film about cannibals. That wasn’t scary. Or gory. It was exciting in the last third but this film is mostly a languorous sideways look at issues of social realism and family drama.

Jorge Michel Grau’s debut film centres on a family that is neither poor enough to be tragic or rich enough to be interesting but twisted enough to give family/social issues commentary a fresh twist.

If I go back to the opening (and point out the obvious), it is a clear indictment of the gap between rich and poor, consumerism. The film’s police officers and their highlights the corruption of the state, as prostitutes are ready to service the needs of the police in order to get them to conduct an investigation to protect them from attack. But the police are in it for the money and fame.

Interesting as it is, what really gripped me was the evolution of the family dynamics. We witness conversations that lay down memories exploring the love between brothers, the perversions and regrets stemming from childhood, all acting as motivation for these twisted characters. Anybody with a family, especially those with siblings, will recognise the tensions and the emotional strains that come with them.

Issues like gender are also subverted with the females being the deadliest – the mother emotionally and physically dominates the family, the sister is the intellectual core, manipulating the brothers’ to kidnap. Both are tougher and smarter than either brother.

It was intriguing seeing and how the characters fit into the world which is where the director excels. For the first two thirds we see a world built. Commercial districts are contrasted with seedy backstreets. Dapper cops with street kids. The claustrophobic interior of the cannibal family’s house is intense (meat hooks perched on coat hangers). The streets of Mexico City are grimy and feel real. The chases through them either mimic hunting human prey in a city (exciting) or confused encounters in slums (confused…).

It is different from most films from Latin America due to the way it looks at social issues. Just for that, it gets points for originality.

I must admit that at one point I felt this might work even better as a black comedy in the vein of Happiness of the Katakuris. I was just waiting for victims to jump up minus a limb and do a song and dance. But then I’m eccentric.

It doesn’t matter that this is a film about cannibals because the strongest element is the family drama. In fact, take the cannibals out and the film will still work which shows the strength of it. The best film about cannibals I have seen this year.

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