We Are the Flesh ** / *****
Directed by: Emiliano Rocha Minter
Written by: Emiliano Rocha Minter.
Starring: Noé Hernández (Mariano), María Evoli (Fauna), Diego Gamaliel (Lucio), Gabino Rodríguez (Soldado mexicano), María Cid (María).
If nothing else, watching a film like We Are the Flesh will make you appreciate what the great Luis Bunuel or Pier Pasolini pulled off on a regular basis throughout his career – and what his descendants, like Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is currently doing. It’s not easy to make a film like this that is genuinely transgressive and shocking and surreal and intelligent – so it’s probably not a surprise that first time filmmaker Emiliano Rocha Minter pretty much fails across the board with the film. He aimed high, and for that you can admire him, even if he doesn’t come close to pulling it off.
The film stars Noe Hernandez as Mariano – the ruler of a dark underworld he has created for himself in post-apocalyptic Mexico. He lives by himself in a dilapidated, trash-ridden apartment building, where he is seemingly able to procure for himself food, water and other necessities. A teenage brother and sister duo – Fauna (Maria Evoli) and Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) – stumble across the building, and Mariano takes them in – feeds them, and expels his philosophy of the world to them – although it isn’t really much of one. Lucio is suspicious of Mariano immediately – he wants to leave – but Fauna quickly falls under his spell. It isn’t long before Mariano has the brother and sister fuck each other (in scenes that are either real sex, or impressive fakes) as he masturbates above them. This is only 30 minutes in – Minter has far more in store for the next hour.
The film suggests a Mexican version of Pasolini’s Salo – a film about Nazis and their collaborators, and the atrocities they committed, while the country itself and those in power were complicit and acted as if nothing happened. Pasolini’s film is shocking and extreme, because it has to be. I’m sure Minter would argue the same thing – and he is only doing an extreme version of what some of his countrymen have done in the recent past, confronting Mexico’s current violence with a violent film, and forcing the audience to watch instead of look away. There is a difference though between Minter’s film and say Carolos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven (2005) – an obvious forbearer. That film had a plot, and a few moments of shocking violence or unsimulated sex. This film is the inverse of that, piling on shock on top of another. Incest, cannibalism, necrophilia – the film is a parade of misery, as the film sinks deeper into allegory as it moves along.
This parade of misery eventually grows numbing – it’s harder to be continuously shocked for 82 minutes, and it doesn’t helped that with each new idea Mariano spouts, you roll your eyes a little bit harder than the time before. It almost feels like Minter is using his basic setup and Mariano’s philosophy – and the films limp “shock” ending as an excuse for all the depravity that comes before. A part of me admires what Minter is attempting here – he wants to do something truly shocking and transgressive, and perhaps to a certain audience, that is what We Are the Flesh will be (I am, after all, one of those people who do not think Pasolini’s Salo is a masterpiece either – although it looks like one compared to this). But I do think there needs to be more to a moving than a series of shocking images if you want to make something that truly has an impact. We Are the Flesh doesn’t have that.