We Are The Flesh (2016)

When we go to the cinema, we are returning to the womb. There we sit waiting in the cavernous dark, awash in sensory stimuli and mythic archetypes – and even if there are others, either located alongside us or flickering on the screen, nonetheless we remain essentially alone, relating to them only through the internal processes of identification and projection. This is a place where fantasy reigns, with the only reality – apart from the fleshy bounds of our bodies – existing outside, beyond the artificial confines of the theatre.

We Are The Flesh (Tenemos la carne) is set in a similar place – an inside space whose outside is left, at least until an emergence at the every end, entirely to the imagination. Living in solitude, Mariano (Noé Hernández) appears never to leave the dilapidated building that he has made his home. He hauls in fresh food from outside via an umbilical dumb waiter, but mostly subsists on a narcotic liquid that he has distilled himself from fermented bread, which fuels his visions of his (late) mother’s presence.

Into this strange, hermetic environment climb young Fauna (María Evoli) and her brother Lucio (Diego Gamaliel). Starving and homeless, they are taken in by Mariano, and in exchange for food and lodgings, they help him transform the building’s interiors into a womblike set where Mariano can stage his own intoxicated fantasies of foetal return – except that the siblings are now very much part of this perverse world, part of “a family”, as their host will later put it, “and families stay together no matter what.” In the orgiastic scenes of graphic sex, incest, pissing, menstruation, masturbation, murder, rape, and cannibalism that follow, seemingly no transgression is left unturned in the libertine pursuit of happiness without constraint – and even death itself proves to be a barrier that can be transcended.

For his arresting feature debut, 27-year-old Mexican writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter has created a confronting look at what his nation is like behind closed doors, reduced to its most primal, atavistic form. There is even a scene that outrageously reproduces the lyrics of Mexico’s patriotic national anthem (“think, oh beloved country, that heaven has given you a soldier in every son”) in the context of a soldier’s freakish final sacrifice. It is as though everything here is in retreat, pursuing its most basic, embryonic incarnation, beyond the external restraints of morality.  Metamorphosing in his cocoon from beardy weirdy to slick showman, the manically grinning Mariano is the Mephistophelean master of ceremonies, whether as an abiding presence or merely the morbid remnants of an idea coursing through the others’ drug-addled veins – much as Mariano himself is both haunted and defined by uterine memories of his late mother. Yet whether Mariano is in the end alive or dead, he lives on in the flesh of Lucio – who arrives a repressed, vegetarian virgin, but leaves very much reborn as his adopted father’s carnal son.

With its overamplified sound design, its disorientingly biotic sets, its canted, spinning camerawork and its occasional psychedelic use of colours in negative, We Are The Flesh breaks down the barriers between inside and outside, organic and constructed. As it busts one taboo after another, it presents us with a Satanic arch-villain who is also a Christ-like hero, resurrected and offering communion to all who participate in what is “not your average party”. Once viewers have been subjected to this film’s dark, dank tunnel visions and inversions of worldly convention, who knows if they can emerge untainted and intact out the other side. Whatever, this is one hell of a firstborn to have been sired by this diabolical new talent from south of the border.

© Anton Bitel