All week long, Birth.Movies.Death. is celebrating the arrival of the Safdie Bros.' Uncut Gems with a series of editorials about some of our favorite Wild-Ass movies. Some of these movies have direct connective tissue to the Safdies' previous films, some are completely unrelated except for their wildness, all are absolutely bonkers and, in our opinion, mandatory viewing. Welcome to Wild-Ass Cinema Week. Get your tickets to see Uncut Gems at the Alamo Drafthouse here.
One does not recommend Emiliano Rocha Minter's We Are The Flesh so much as one dares friends and loved ones to watch it. Here's a movie that isn't afraid to get right up in your face with some truly shocking stuff - incest, brutal murder, torture, graphic nudity, an almost complete disregard for anything that might reasonably be called a "plot" - and once it works up a head of steam it doesn't let up for another hour. By the end of it, you're exhausted and rattled, unsure how to feel and possibly confused as to what this non-stop parade of cinematic perversions was even trying to say. My first thought after seeing We Are The Flesh was, "Well, I'll never watch that again, but I'm glad I saw it." I dunno about you, but that's one of my favorite kinds of movies.
The story, as it were, takes place in post-apocalyptic (or so it seems) Mexico. A pair of young-ish siblings, Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli), stumble upon an old man, Mariano (an absolutely terrifying Noé Hernández), who's taken up residence in an old warehouse. Mariano seems to spend his days pulping bodies and banging on every available surface - we are led to believe he is either chaos or evil incarnate; probably he's both - but the arrival of Lucio and Fauna offers him the opportunity to spruce up his lair. In short order, the old man has put the two siblings to work, fashioning a sprawling and possibly random infrastructure deep within the bowels of his hovel. Boards and duct tape are employed to turn the interior of Mariano's cave into what looks like a giant, rickety spider's web. It is from here that he will ensnare others and...
Well, given that Mariano is basically just an unchecked id made flesh, there really isn't much of a plan to speak of here beyond nihilistic cruelty. Murder, torture, unsimulated group sex (and not necessarily in that order) are really the only activities on Mariano's docket, and Minter's camera does not shy away from depicting every moment of it, in often startling and graphic detail. There's so much to be alarmed by here, its transgressive tone so sustained, you eventually become numb to it all. By the time you get to the extreme close-ups of Gamaliel and Evoli's genitalia, you might barely even notice (which is saying something, because those close-ups really fill the screen).
I tend to think of We Are The Flesh much in the same way I think about Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film: both are notorious for their upsetting imagery (you'll frequently find each mentioned alongside films like Pasolini's Salò or Noe's Irreversible), but moreover, both are inherently political films, made in direct response to the corruption, violence and/or rampant immorality these directors have identified within their countries of origin. Many viewers will watch We Are The Flesh or A Serbian Film and walk away from the experience feeling like the extremity was the entire point, but it's more complicated than that - both Minter and Spasojevic have something to say, it just so happens that they've chosen an exceptionally punishing way to communicate it. There's value here beyond the perverse, in other words, but each film demands you bring a certain level of intellectual curiosity to the table in order to even begin seeing the art from that angle.
What all this adds up to is, as I intimated before, a film one does not simply recommend. We Are The Flesh is an ugly, nasty piece of work - it will repel almost every viewer it encounters, make no mistake - but its raw power is undeniable (it's also worth mentioning that, for as repulsive as We Are The Flesh gets, it is a hypnotic, beautifully-crafted bit of existential horror, and its performances are nothing if not memorable). For those with a taste for the extreme or an inclination towards the transgressive, it's an unforgettable experience, one which will work its way well below your skin and carve out a little space there, where it may just stay festering and screaming, like Mariano in his horrifying little cave, forever.