“This is no average party.” Damn right. Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are the Flesh is a thoroughly tough sell, and will likely find a small audience; those who like their transgressive cinema with an equally extreme arthouse flavour. A promising debut, for sure, but its reach will be very limited. In what looks like post-apocalyptic Mexico, a scuzzy hermit (Noe Hernandez) lives out his days in a filthy hovel. He spends his time filling barrels with meaty slop and starts building a cave out of cardboard.
Breaking into this inner sanctum one day, a young woman (Maria Evoli) and her brother (Diego Gamaliel) start to help out the man in his quest to build a womb-like cave in exchange for food and shelter. Credited as Mariano, Hernandez’s performance as an impish freak is both captivating and repulsive. The guy is less silver-tongued devil and more conniving weirdo with a master plan to be reborn. Informing the young pair that morals don’t apply anymore, he coerces them into screwing while he knocks one off over them, coming as he goes, so to speak. Bereft of his malignant influence, the girl rubs her crotch against the corpse and he later magically reappears looking revitalised, promising them he’ll never leave again.
Due to its aesthetic and narrative surrealism, reactions to We Are the Flesh are likely to be split between those who wish to take on and grapple with subtexts and themes, and those alienated and ultimately nonplussed. Minter certainly doesn’t give the audience anything on a plate or spell things out, though its final – rug-pulling – scene, akin somewhat to a move made by Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Innocence, cements the idea this modernist poem for the screen is aimed entirely at Mexico’s propensity for social anarchy and that history doesn’t necessarily mean progress. But maybe it isn’t. It’s hard to tell, and only dedicated admirers will want another go at this poetic oddity.
Challenging, daring and disgusting, We are the Flesh is all those things and then some but also superbly crafted and always visually compelling. Not least of these is a gorgeously photographed sex scene, which looks like a Henri Matisse painting brought to life, shot in infrared so that the heat signatures of two people radiate – literally – from the screen. It’s one of the most beautiful images you’ll see all year – until you remember that it’s actually a brother and sister going at it hammer and tongs.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn