Thursday, July 24, 2014

Manuel Martín Cuenca's Goya-laden CANNIBAL proves the Spanish answer to non-stop boredom

Possibly the slowest-moving movie ever made (other than the oeuvre of Andy Warhol), CANNIBAL, the latest from Spanish filmmaker Manuel Martín Cuenca, left us utterly unmoved and finally uninterested. "Well," noted my spouse post-viewing, "it was kind of interesting to keep waiting and waiting to see if something would happen." Unfortunately, nothing ever does. Though I enjoyed Señor Cuenca's earlier Malas Temporadas, this one -- for all its Goya awards and nominations, is a major dud. Even one of my favorite actors, the usually amazing Antonio de la Torre, is one-note and boring here. Considering how versatile and energetic this excellent actor always is, this is not an easy thing to achieve.

One of the dead (and deadening) give-aways here is how Señor Cuenca (shown at left) chooses to end his every scene: with a too-long pause before the screen fades to black. Over time this becomes expected, obvious and very tiresome. The filmmaker is clearly going for "art" here and is absolutely not about to give us -- even in movie in which our hero murders and then eats beautiful women -- any thrills, chills or gore. The single scene of blood-letting is so chaste and arty (and also quite derivative) that we can only sigh, Ah, lovely!

Why is our boy Carlos (played by de la Torre, above), the best tailor in Granada, doing these naughty deeds? The film gives us a hint now and then. Maybe it's religion. We get the "Take, eat, for this is my body" scene in church. But then why isn't Carlos killing and eating handsome young men in Jesus-type loin-cloths rather than preying on Virgin Mary stand-ins? Well, he's straight, of course. Psychology? Late in the movie we get an explanation laughably similar to the one given about the character played by Michael Caine in Dressed to Kill.

Really, it doesn't matter why. We're simply stuck with Carlos and his predilection, and because the movie moves like molasses in January (and lasts nearly two hours), it often seems we'll be glued to this guy forever.

There is a very nice turn from the leading lady -- Olimpia Melinte -- playing two roles: the very different sisters, Alexandra (above) and Nina (below), who come into Carlos' life and begin turning it upside down. But even that description might indicate that Cuenca allows a little action into things. Carlos and his life barely move at all. Even when this fellow is in the act of committing murder --with a car, at the beach-- the movie plods.

As much as I've loved the works of de la Torre on many previous occasions (The Last Circus, Gordos, As Luck Would Have It, I'm So Excited to name but a few), here -- in this chic and arty, minimalist movie, he is forced to be so consistently closed-down that he can register little facially or in terms of body language.

Finally the film does not work on any level -- not as art, mystery, thriller, or even a decent exploration into our darker psycho-sexual leanings. The cinematography, however (by Pau Esteve Birba), is often very attractive, but the screenplay, co-credited to Cuenca and Alejandro Hernández, dawdles and feints when it ought to be pro-active and parry.

Still, the Spaniards seemed to go for it. Perhaps you have to be Spanish and Catholic to fully appreciate these goings-on. Cannibal -- released theatrically via Film Movement and its genre division, Ram Releasing -- opens this week in around 20 cities across the country, including Los Angeles (at the CineFamily) and New York (the Village East Cinema). Click here then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

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