Hunger Pains in Jorge Michel Grau's We Are What We Are
Cannibalism may be the nominal calling card of We Are What We Are, but ritualistic gruesomeness is merely a means for political commentary in Jorge Michel Graus auspicious debut. My first intention was to make a film about familial disintegration, says the writer/director. It begins as an art-house drama, and then switches at the end to horror. His assured allegorical tale of man-eat-man monstrousness focuses on a destitute Mexico City family who, after their patriarchs death, strive to carry on their fanatical rite of abducting and consuming those even lower down the societal food chain.
Infusing grungy realism with macabre details, Graus waking-nightmare domestic drama is a study of self-interest run amok, and the larger breakdowns that follow in its wake. With the nastier bits of business kept largely off-screen, economic, religious, and household decay takes center stage. Citing as inspirations Vincent Gallos Buffalo 66, the canon of Michael Haneke, and Claire Deniss Trouble Every Day, with which his maiden feature shares an aesthetic and narrative patience and nuance, Grau asserts that, ghastly premise notwithstanding, I didnt necessarily want to make a genre film. I was much more interested in providing a mirror to talk about the social problems in Mexico right now.
Born in Mexico City in 1973, Graus passion for cinema led him to the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, the countrys national film school, where his cannibalistic saga came to life. Set in Graus childhood neighborhood, an impoverished urban locale of venal corruption and moral narrowness that the writer/director knows intimately, We Are What We Are charts not only its central tribe but also a pair of crooked cops whose desire to catch the deviants dining on local prostitutes is directly proportional to the financial and professional rewards such an achievement would reap. The message is clear: Theres a sense of To each his own, says Grau of Mexico City, and that if something doesnt happen to youor is in it for youyou dont get involved. Such callousness is epitomized by a haunting sequence in which mother and son relocate a corpse from their cars backseat to its trunk in the middle of a highway, to the complete indifference of passers-by.
In the films gloomy panorama, corrosive dysfunction abounds, from the psychosexual tensions within the clanindecisive Alfredo is a closeted homosexual, sadistic Julian and domineering sister Sabina burn with suppressed incestuous longing, and Mom wrestles with twisted feelings about prostitutionto the familys blind adherence to a ceremony whose mysterious historical roots are never revealed. All of these perverse dynamics are governed by the big moral dogmas that rule everything in Mexican society, Grau says. Rife with black humor and horror, We Are What We Are is not just an allegory of one towns corruption, but also a portrait of endemic collapse to sink ones teeth into.
We Are What We Are plays at Alice Tully Hall October 7 and Walter Reade Theater October 8
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