Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Cannibal Club

Club Lunch

The Cannibal Club
(aka O Clube Dos Canibais)

2018 Brazil Directed by Guto Parente
Screened at the London Film Festival
Friday 19th October 2018.

So The Cannibal Club is the second of my three London Film Festival screenings this year and, so far so good on my picks for 2018. This one is pretty great too.

Despite the title, this is not about the Victorian society founded in 1863 with the same name but a modern tale of a Brazilian secret society comprising of rich people who have covert meetings where they can watch their victims perform sexually before slaughtering them and eating them. They also, as in the case of main protagonist Otavio, played here by Tavinho Teixeira and his beautiful wife Gilda, portrayed by Ana Luiza Rios... kill and eat their employees when they are not having one of their meetings.

The film is short but quite engaging and tells the story of what happens to these two, bloodthirsty protagonists when Gilda sees something she shouldn’t have involving the head of the society Borges, played by Pedro Domingues. The last 20 minutes or so of the movie shows them as being the hunted ones as the paranoia which has been building up the whole movie in Otavio’s mind turns out to be completely justified. And that’s probably as much as I want to share about the story and its outcome with you because I don’t want to post any spoilers about it.

It’s an interesting film because, at heart, the absurdity of the situation of a powerful group of civilised cannibals which, to be fair, is a very old concept is drawn here with very humorous overtones (I decline to use the word comic because that will confuse matters in a minute when I talk about another aspect of the film). However, despite the funny moments, one of the many things the director gets absolutely right here is that the main protagonists, right from the outset of the movie, feel very dangerous. For example, as soon as you see Otavio handling a gun and giving it to one of his employees, there is already a palpable tension to the movie which few directors are able to hold when it comes to weaponry like firearms. Quentin Tarantino, for example, is one of the few directors I can think of who can still make guns feel dangerous in a world of constant action cinema and this is very important because, people should be reminded how dangerous guns are and the power of the consequences of using them. Right from the start in The Cannibal Club, I was nervous around the main characters... especially Otavio who is wonderfully played and whose mood you feel can flip on a coin at any moment. It’s a very stylised performance because, one minute you will see him masturbating over another man having sex with his wife as part of their pre-arranged honey trap so the employee can be slaughtered with an axe as his wife is penetrated by him... the blood splashing over her naked form while her husband's semen drips into the blood of their next meal... while at the same time, in a later scene, the husband complains about the way they are being harassed as if they are some kind of murderers. This flip flop of morality is very black and white and overtly drawn in both the performance and the script and this is one of many elements which lend this movie a kind of comic book sensibility... and I don’t mean that in a derogatory tone.

The whole film, to my eyes, played out like a comic book and I was reminded of this very much on the last, mid end credits shot of one of the characters sitting by a pool contemplating the aftermath of everything we’ve seen played out in the final third of the movie. The composition and style of this shot could almost have been pulled from a panel of a comic strip by the late 2000AD artist Carlos Ezquerra. It felt very late 1970s - mid 1980s almost, like something he might have drawn for 2000AD's sister comic Crisis back in the day, or something one of the British comic book artists might have worked on in the US for the early days of DC’s Vertigo imprint. In fact, the whole story felt like that too, it has to be said... and that’s not a bad thing.

For instance, the shots can be very colourful but a great deal of them are also static shots of people moving through the frames rather than having a great deal of camera movement. Not always but, certainly an abundance of letting the static frame do the talking and, in conjunction with an editing process hitting beats on the music, it works really well for this movie.

Also, the practicality of the editing process seems also to be a symptom of the practical effects used. The film is very bloody but it doesn’t feel CGI’d at any point. It does however, pull back in some ways from showing the full impact of the gory moments 'in shot' and instead concentrates on weapons impacting behind a person or off screen rather than going the ‘whole Argento’ and building elabourate false body parts to show the actual impact of a weapon on human flesh. That being said though, because of the editing process, you possibly feel the impact of the violence in the film a heck of a lot more than you would if you saw every death in minute detail and the director is obviously very aware of how he does this because, in a couple of scenes where two or more people are being murdered, he relies on the gory aftermath we’ve seen previously to let our imagination do the work and relies purely on the sound of the kills rather than have the camera bear witness to them... and I have to say it works very well in the two cases where he does this. And, again, this way of editing around some of the violence also enhances the stylistic, panel by panel feel of the movie to play as some kind of audio enhanced comic book... which counts in its favour as a potent piece of cinema.

So we have some beautiful shot set ups and some brilliant performances from all involved, with special shout outs to Tavinho Teixeira and Zé Maria (aka José Maria Alves) as one of his employees... not to mention the eye candy of Ana Luiza Rios, who’s blood spattered, naked body reveals an actress who is confident in a role which might have other performers fleeing less than cautiously.

My only real complaint here... and this isn’t really a criticism because I think it’s just  personal thing to me... was the musical score by Fernando Catatau. It gives an upbeat and far too jaunty and raucous flavour to the scenes for my taste. However, I suspect the juxtaposition of this up tempo music in contrast with the horror of the subject matter is precisely the point here. I would have preferred a more traditional piece of scoring but, although I didn’t care much for the music, I think it really fulfills its purpose here so, like I said, not really a criticism.

So those are my thoughts on The Cannibal Club. Whether this will get a proper release in the UK is not something I know at the moment but, if it does, I suspect it won’t have an easy time at the BBFC. Guto Parente draws the parallels between sex and eating into the mix in a bloody and appropriately carnivorous metaphor which, again, is almost clichéd but I don’t think the visual expression of this obvious relationship between sexuality, violence and the human digestive system is going to be very censor-friendly in some countries. I hope I’m wrong because I’d happily watch this one again on a nice Blu Ray transfer if given the opportunity... but only if it’s left uncut. As such, I would definitely recommend this uncategorised cut I saw of the film at the festival as something that lovers of bloody violence and dark comedy in movies will embrace. I can only hope it stays uncut on subsequent iterations of the film... people need to get the opportunity to see this as it should be seen.

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