The Film: 2/5
Fauna (Maria Evoli) and her brother Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) spend their days around a city reduced to an ashy shadow of its former self in a post-apocalyptic future. Their ongoing struggle to survive brings them to the dilapidated tenement lair of Mariano (Noe Hernandez), a crazed loner who agrees to give the young siblings food and shelter in exchange for a few services. Namely turning his crumbling dwelling into something resembling a cave and acting out his most perverted sexual fantasies. The psychosexual mind games soon take a disturbing toll on the relationship between Fauna and Mario, and under the diseased sway of Mariano, they begin to identify with his peculiar philosophies regarding love, sex, and life in a world without taboos or boundaries. Incestuous rutting is just the beginning.
Folks, I’m not a prude. I can handle a little (or a lot) of the ol’ graphic sex and violence in my movies, even if it’s gratuitous. The recent Mexican-French indie film We Are the Flesh doesn’t get violent until its final act and what we see isn’t much if you’re a seasoned gorehound. No, the director Emiliano Rocha Minter saves his debut film’s truly extreme moments for a series of sexual encounters between the siblings Fauna and Lucio that border on the hardcore pornographic with close-ups of male and female genitalia and some realistically-depicted couplings that Minter refuses to shy away from displaying on screen in the boldest and brightest of colors. First-time feature cinematographer Yollotl Alvarado shoots the entire film in warming, often garish splashes of blue and orange that make each scene look as if they were taking place inside of a mood ring, but it’s surprisingly easy to get lost inside the hypnotic palette of enveloping primary and secondary colors that bring some life and beauty to the dank and hopeless world in which the story plays out.
These sequences are the only times when Minter’s film actually comes alive and exhibits some genuine ambition and daring. Fauna and Lucio’s descent into sexual depravity at the behest of their sickening host and eventual father figure dominates the second act, but the larger thematic elements at play in the narrative are not permitted to develop and take shape. Flesh runs barely 80 minutes in length and the first and second acts are given over to scenes regarding the desire of a lunatic who looks like the Mexican Brother Theodore with an evil grin wider than the Joker’s to return to the womb and be reborn even crazier than before. Thus, we are left with nothing more than something significantly less than the sum of its parts - a collection of artfully-composed sex scenes and philosophical meanderings leading up to a finale that still has me scratching my head. I think I get it, but I’m not quite sure.
Hernandez steals the show as the unhinged and unpredictable Mariano, less of a character and more of an amateurish assembly of showboating monologues and delirious physicality that blows everyone and everything else off the screen. His performance is a decadent joy in a film where little of that good stuff can be found, but Evoli and Gamaliel also deliver credible portrayals of lost and haunted youth in a world gone mad that are only undermined by the lack of strong characterization in Minter’s screenplay. A gorgeously unnerving music score by Esteban Aldrete and minimalist art direction from Manuela Garcia provide We Are the Flesh with greater ambition and scope than the film’s threadbare budget allows. It should be noted that among the producers of Minter’s directorial debut is the acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas, whose past work includes features such as Japon and Battle in Heaven.
We Are the Flesh is presented by Arrow Video is a vibrant and atmospheric 1080p high-definition transfer in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The vivid colors, grimy textures, and coarse details in the cinematography are preserved as best as can be on this Blu-ray disc, with strong black levels adding to the overall moodiness of the piece. The strongest of the two Spanish audio options offered here is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track with a spacious and positively pulsating mix that allows for the dialogue to be heard with excellent clarity even with the occasional intrusion of a cacophonous sound design. For viewers with standard television set-ups, a PCM 2.0 stereo track is also on hand and performs at the same level as the 5.1 option. English subtitles have also been provided.
Supplements kick off strong in the form of new interviews with director Minter (18 minutes) and stars Hernandez (20 minutes), Evoli (13 minutes), and Gamaliel (13 minutes). They are in Spanish with English subtitles (apart from Evoli, who answers the questions in English), and each interview delves deep into the development of the story and characters, interpreting the imagery and themes, and more. The themes are further explored in a video essay by film critic Virginie Selavy (36 minutes), in English without subtitles. Closing the disc out are a behind-the-scenes still gallery, the original theatrical trailer, and two short films by Minter - “Dentro” (13 minutes) and “Videohome” (11 minutes). Arrow has also included a reversible cover sleeve and a collector’s booklet featuring an essay about We Are the Flesh written by film critic Anton Bitel and a note from producer Julio Chavezmontes.
Usually I’m pretty game for provocative and stimulating independent cinema from an up-and-coming visionary filmmaker, but We Are the Flesh left me cold with its unpleasant cocktail of unlikeable characters, grating imagery, and half-baked ideas. Director Emiliano Rocha Minter conjured some interesting visuals and could very well have a promising future ahead of him, though unfortunately his feature directorial debut hardly inspires the greatest of confidence that his career is worth following. There is an appreciative audience for this film and I’m sure Arrow Video’s well-stocked Blu-ray will satisfy their devotion.