“CANNIBAL” (TIFF Movie Review)
There are moments of exquisite stillness in Manuel Martin Cuenca’s CANNIBAL. Some might say too many. But for those willing to go along with its deliberately tentative pacing, CANNIBAL delivers a poignant – if not always totally gripping -minimalist narrative about a man who eats people and the woman who loves him.
After a blunt opening scene that illustrates our anti-hero’s pastime – which he carries out at his cabin tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains – we are brought into the banality of his daily life in the southern Spanish town of Granada: the hum and drone of the car wash, hunched and focused labour at the tailor’s shop, dutiful visits with an impressive elderly relative, the stacking of the refrigerator with compact parcels that will turn into silent meals for one – always accompanied by fine wine, of course. Everything he does reflects a killer’s typical obsession with minutiae. But this fastidious routine is thrown off when he becomes interested in a sultry neighbour, and then confused further by her the arrival of her comparatively virginal twin sister Nina.
Admittedly the plot is thin and many identical scenarios play out multiple times unnecessarily, causing the third act to drag, even though it moves the (in)action to the gorgeous vistas of the snowy mountain range. The heart of the film is the stoic performance by the chameleonic Antonio de la Torre (an Alex de le Iglesia regular) as Carlos the cannibal. He is able to convey so much of his anxiety, sympathy, sense of responsibility and even his admiration with very little, without betraying his need to remain at a distance from people, physically and emotionally. As audience members we have the benefit of studying him and knowing his secret, but for the other characters he remains decidedly hard to read. Olimpia Melinte convincingly inhabits both the roles of Nina and her probing, femme fatale sister, but it’s as the desperate Nina that she really pulls us in – as she does our seemingly impenetrable anthropophagous lead.
It’s a meditative film that plays with a certain feminine fantasy – that of being ‘special’ enough to tame a monster – in ways that were reminiscent of Philippe Grandrieux’ equally meandering but haunting serial killer film SOMBRE (1998). The strength of such a problematic theme is sufficient to give Nina’s character a dynamism on par with Carlos’, making the film essentially a romantic showdown between these two characters that is suffused with the dreadful question of which kind of hunger will win out in the end.