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We Are What We Are
Time Out New York Project: Issue #801, February 17-23, 2011
Dir. Jorge Michel Grau. 2010. N/R. 90mins. In Spanish, with subtitles. Francisco Barreiro, Alan Chávez, Paulina Gaitán, Carmen Beato.
You can practically taste the grime in Jorge Michel Grau’s art-house horror show — the film looks like it’s been slathered with gooey discards from a backyard barbecue. That’s appropriate considering the focus is on a Mexico City–based family of cannibals who scramble to complete a flesh-eating ritual after their patriarch unexpectedly dies. The dynamics are familiar — demanding mother (Beato), macho son (Chávez), manipulative daughter (Gaitán), their introverted sibling (Barreiro) — as is the movie’s crudely satirical view of human nature (dog-eat-dog, moved up a genus). A comic-relief supporting character spells out the meaning for us, in case it wasn’t clear: “So many people eat others in this city.”
Would that we were watching people, and not a half-assedly assembled cluster of types. These scuzzy city streets are populated by vengeful whores, corrupt cops and homosexuals practically begging to be victimized; there’s even a subway singer who wails about how awful life is before handing a glibly inspirational koan (“You are alive”) to the family’s own closet case. Grau admits to being inspired by Claire Denis’s carnivorously romantic Trouble Every Day, while several screechy aural cues and the ritualistic climax recall The Texas Chain Saw Massacre minus that film’s allegorical punch. But a better director could have made the cannibalism a potent metaphor; here, the characters’ rapacious tendencies exist in a void, so all we get is numbing, meaningless viscera. At least the film’s echo-chamber emptiness allows for a few unintentional laughs — the heartiest comes when Gaitán’s Sabina seemingly picks out her latest victim because he’s wearing a David Bowie T-shirt. That’s deranged.—Keith Uhlich