×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Cannibal’

Antonio de la Torre is brilliant as a killer and eater of young women in Manuel Martin Cuenca's sumptuously lensed psychological drama.

With:

Antonio de la Torre, Olimpia Melinte, Maria Alfonsa Rosso, Manolo Solo. (Spanish, Romanian dialogue)

The title of “Cannibal,” Spanish helmer Manuel Martin Cuenca’s fifth feature, is not merely figurative. Its hero, brilliantly incarnated by Antonio de la Torre, kills and consumes beautiful young women, and unlike other same-species carnivores, he pursues his solitary avocation with the same measured deliberation with which he plies his craft as a high-end tailor. Sumptuously shot in carefully composed long takes, the film firmly keeps its butchery offscreen, and given its glacial pace and lack of overt sensationalism, it definitely ranks as a niche item — and a rarefied one, at that. But sophisticated arthouse audiences might eat it up.

Cuenca opens his film with a murder. In extreme long shot, a couple at a gas station get into their car and drive off, at which point the camera’s viewpoint is revealed as that of Carlos (de la Torre). He forces them off the road, taking the woman’s body from the wreck to his chalet in the snow-covered mountains, where he reverently lays her nude body on a table, selecting the tools for her dismemberment. A single, sinuous ribbon of blood flowing alongside her immaculate corpse is the film’s only visualization of what follows.

Cuenca offers no explanation for his hero’s peculiar predilection, though it sometimes seems to represent a form of love, sexual communion or even transubstantiation, not unlike that enunciated by a priest while offering the host in a church-set mass.  Certainly religious symbolism abounds in Granada, where Carlos resides in a spacious apartment opposite his tailor shop. But religion may serve as just another ritual, like tailoring or vivisecting a body, which speaks to Carlos’ sense of precision and order. Indeed, if Carlos made a film, it would probably look like this one.

When sexy Romanian blonde Alexandra (Olimpia Melinte) moves into an upstairs apartment, her music and loud arguments, or even her simple presence, draw Carlos to watch her from his window. But when she invades his apartment, seeking help and prying into his secrets, only a fade to black (one of the film’s many such discreet ellipses) marks her disappearance from the scene.

Shortly afterward, Alexandra’s dark-haired, quieter sister, Nina (also thesped by Melinte), comes to Carlos looking for clues to her sibling’s whereabouts. Setting aside his usual need to keep a low profile, Carlos becomes more and more involved with Nina’s quest and Nina herself, squiring her to the police station or sharing a vegetarian dinner. Finally he invites her to his mountain retreat on a trip that proves continually and surprisingly life-changing.

The film’s slow deliberation and aesthetic rigor act as a form of seduction, luring the viewer into unwilling identification with Carlos; the immensely satisfying balance of the compositions somehow extends to the character (or vice versa), his monstrousness as carefully hidden by Cuenca as by Carlos himself. A quietly crafted harmony of surfaces and colors suffuses lenser Pau Esteve Birba’s every frame, whether we’re looking at a snowy mountain vista, an exquisitely ordered tailor shop or a nude body about to be cut up.

Although the scenery varies greatly, the northern chalet of Carlos’ “other life” is shot with the same painterly meticulousness as the warm interiors of Carlos’ old-world urban respectability. Here, as in Matteo Garrone’s “First Love,” about a goldsmith’s obsessive need to sculpt his lover’s body through starvation, aestheticism aligns itself with carnal perversion.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Cannibal'

Reviewed at "Film Comment Selects," Walter Reade Theater, New York, Feb. 22, 2014. (Also in 2013 Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 116 MIN. Original title: "Canibal"

Production:

(Spain-Romania-Russia-France) A Film Movement (in U.S.) release of a La Loma Blanca, MOD Producciones, Libra Film, CTB Film Co., Luminor production, with the participation of TVE, Canal Sur Television, Canal Plus, AXN. Produced by Fernando Bovaira, Simon de Santiago, Manuel Martin Cuenca, Alejandro Hernandez. Co-producers, Tudor Giurgiu, Sergey Selyanov, Francois Yon.

Crew:

Directed by Manuel Martin Cuenca. Screenplay, Cuenca, Alejandro Hernandez, based on a novel by Humberto Arenal. Camera (color, widescreen), Pau Esteve Birba; editor, Angel Hernandez Zoido; production designer, Isabel Vinuales; costume designer, Pedro Moreno; sound (Dolby Digital), Salva Mayolas, Pelayo Gutierrez, Nacho Royo-Villanova; casting, Eva Leira, Yolanda, Serrano.

With:

Antonio de la Torre, Olimpia Melinte, Maria Alfonsa Rosso, Manolo Solo. (Spanish, Romanian dialogue)

More Film

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content