The fickle finger of fate can sometimes direct us to strange and unexpected places. The film I originally intended to review this week had its release date pushed back (you’ll read about it next week instead), so another subject was needed tout de suite – and Tenemos la Carne (We Are the Flesh, opening at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco on Friday, January 27th), was conveniently available to fill the void.
I’ve been writing quite a bit about the recent mini-renaissance of Mexican cinema, so (convenience aside) this south-of-the-border production seemed like a perfect fit for Big Screen Berkeley – and indeed, it shares much in common with such films as The Incident and Bleak Street, all of which take place within vaguely recognizable, not-quite-surreal-but-almost alternate realities.
In other respects, however, writer-director Emiliano Rocher Minta’s film strays far from the cozy comfort zone of contemporary art-house cinema. Giving the envelope an almighty nudge (and probably knocking it off the table altogether), We Are the Flesh is – please pardon the indelicate but accurate term – a disturbing and challenging mindfuck laced with sexually explicit scenes that would have earned it an ‘X’ rating in the old days (as well as ‘XXX’ hype in newspaper advertising).
The story, such as it is, revolves around a middle-aged hermit (A Monster with a Thousand Head’s Noé Hernández) and the two young adults (María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel) who stumble into his warehouse lair. Something, it seems, has gone terribly wrong in the outside world (though precisely what is neither examined nor explained at any point, even when ‘reality’ itself is ever so briefly glimpsed); the man now spends his time cooking bizarre, unappetizing stews and constructing a womblike cave fashioned from wood and an apparently endless supply of packing tape.
He’s also sexually frustrated, and the young couple’s arrival triggers his long dormant libido. Though not the primary focus of the film (there’s no sex at all for the first thirty minutes or so), this is the part of the film that (to the extent that people talk about movies anymore) people are going to talk about. It is transgressive, it leaves next to nothing to the imagination, and it will probably make you, as it did me, rather uncomfortable.
While I wouldn’t consider We Are the Flesh pornographic in the traditional sense, it is most certainly (as the Roxie’s promotional material deems it) “not for the squeamish.” However, if you can cope with the film’s many challenging images (not all of them sexual in nature), there’s a great deal to recommend here: astonishing set pieces, impressive cinematography that seesaws back and forth between visions of abject filth and ravishing beauty, and a soundtrack featuring some mysteriously wonderful Spanish-language pop songs.
So, no, this is no ordinary dirty picture. Imagine, if you can, the sort of film David Cronenberg might have made if he’d been tasked with producing an adult version of Zabriskie Point – and if that sounds appealing (or repulsive), proceed accordingly.