We Are the Flesh is one of the wildest, most transgressive motion pictures to ever play Fantastic Fest, and if you’re familiar with that festival’s storied history of in your face weirdness, you know that’s saying something. An act of knowing disobedience that recalls the art porn heyday of FX Pope and Stephen Sayadian, writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter’s politically charged tableau of writhing, sticky bodies is hypnotic, disturbing and totally unlike anything we’ve seen in the last thirty-plus years. Most certainly ‘not for everyone’, We Are the Flesh defiantly delivers warped theater into your living room, daring the viewer to look away as its central Faustian tempter (Noé Hernández) lures a brother and sister (María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel) further and further down a self-made rabbit hole of debauchery.
We had a chance to speak with Emiliano to celebrate the film’s American release on Blu-ray (courtesy of Arrow) and streaming (exclusively on Shudder). What followed was a rather frank discussion regarding the picture’s purposeful usage of penetration, and just how much spontaneous reality was ported into this hellish fantasy…
BMD: How did you originally conceive of We Are the Flesh? It has a narrative, to an extent, but feels more like a piece of filmed performance.
Emiliano Rocha Minter: What I wanted to do was be completely free – a free cinema. As you know, film can be very contrived, like you’re an architect constructing a building using plans that came before. I wanted to not know what was going to happen [each day we got to set]. I was more interested in ‘believing’ rather than ‘thinking’. I wanted to go about the film in an unstructured fashion; reject the typical ways that we make cinema. It was more like creating a dream than a narrative, you know? Sometimes when you wake up from the dream, there is no real logical explanation for it. You’re left to ponder what just occurred in your consciousness.
BMD: You certainly succeeded there. But I’d say this is more like a nightmare.
ERM: Exactly – it’s like a ghost that visits you in the middle of the night that you’re trying to make sense of. But you’ll never fully know, because the ghost is gone now.
BMD: Were the stagier, theatrical elements intentional?
ERM: Yes – from the get go, we wanted to have the characters build the set right in front of you, crafting the inside of this world that they’ve stumbled into. I wanted to leave many of the film’s monologues uninterrupted, and craft whole sequences out of that. It’s almost as if they’re building their own drama before our eyes. I wanted to highlight the artificiality of the world that they’re constructing and how they perform for each other inside of it.
BMD: So, it sounds like there was a lot of improvisation on set. How much of the film was scripted versus finding the performance in each moment?
ERM: 50/50. There was a clear script – the dialogue was there. But you always have to leave the door open [as a director], so that the actors may approach your material in a way that you would’ve never imagined before. There was always a plan as to what we needed to do each day, but I needed to leave it open for the actors to change those plans. For instance, the end of the film was not planned at all. But that’s so important to the rest of the movie; we found that in the moment, because we left it open for it to grow organically out of what we’d been creating every day.
BMD: For me, your movie is very much about these characters shedding inhibitions and connecting with a more primal state of being. Is this reconnection to primal impulses important to discover the truth of who we are as people?
ERM: [We Are the Flesh] is very much about that, but I’m not passing judgment. I’m not saying whether it’s good or bad that these characters are indulging in these darker parts of themselves. But it’s always there – it’s always part of who we are.
Think of it this way – the stage they build inside of the old building they seek refuge in becomes like a cave, where they can safely hide away from society. Only then can they be free from its confines and explore these darker parts of their nature. They can be more violent and more sexual because they’re free from the gaze of society.
BMD: Speaking of “gaze”, there are some very explicit sexual images in We Are the Flesh. I could see it being misconstrued as traditional pornography, but it very much isn’t. Can you explain your approach to the sexual imagery contained within the film?
ERM: Pornography wants to make you jerk off – it’s an exploration of titillation. We are the Flesh plays with this idea of fantasy and sex, because sex is always happening inside of our heads, even when our thoughts shift toward darkness. So, I wanted to play with my own sexual imagination, but not in a pornographic way. That’s the wonderful thing about cinema, is that it can play with sexuality and transform it into whatever our imaginations conjure up.
There’s a rule in cinema that you cannot show people actually having sex, but we need to get rid of that notion. You can show two people having sex in an artistic way, and help convey a different message beyond titillation.
BMD: In the liner notes for the Arrow Blu-ray, your producer [Julio Chavezmontes] includes a message that states the film is something of a response to Mexican journalism. Can you clarify what he means? From an American standpoint, we may not understand it without proper context.
ERM: Every day in Mexico, you can see publications on newsstands that will feature a beautiful woman, practically naked, next to scenes of horrific violence. For me, making the movie was taking that juxtaposition and putting it right in your face – here is something taboo that is sexual, and here is something taboo that is violent. One draws you to the other; you see the death and the life occurring around you all the time. In Mexico City, you can see both every single day. Death and sex dominate our minds; it’s a potion that we’re always drinking.
We are the Flesh is now streaming exclusively on Shudder and available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films.