Set in Granada Cannibal follows a renowned tailor living a double-life. In the his second life he preys and feeds on women, literally. What disrupts his depraved routine is when Nina comes into his life. She introduces feelings of guilt and genuine affection into his life, and from thereon conflicts ensue.
With a set-up such as that it can be difficult to see how a film of this kind can be easily watchable. While the facts and some of the events of film are undoubtedly disturbing, it’s the way they are introduced and addressed that makes it clear from the outset the approach here will be different than most. There have been famous cinematic cannibals, of course, perhaps the most notable being Hannibal Lecter. Yet as good as The Silence of the Lambs is there is intended shock elements there, and even more so in some of the sequels.
The film opens softly, relatively speaking. After having the facts established as non-grotesquely as possible, we watch much of his routine and how this psychotic is part of his commonplace. The editing of said sequence as well as the framing builds the world effectively. The effect redoubles because of how it works around the viscera. As such it’s not daring you to look away, but daring you instead to continue to look. As intimated, the ritual is not the focus of the film.
The film seems like it’ll play out like a revved up version of Jeanne Dielman, but rather than a slow slip from a solitary, maniacal existence it’s a spiral to real consequences as Nina arrives not knowing him, and seeking answers. As such, starting in the second act it patterns itself like a more traditional suspense film. Due to the mitigating factors of this story, and how it starts, you know it cannot end in a very conventional way, and it doesn’t.
Another thing that lowers the tenor is the fact that there are narrative ellipses. This means that the film will not dwell on the facts, instead we know what happens, and much as it does in real life, we don’t know where it’s happening or how, or maybe not even that it is happening just that it does.
Where the simulacrum attempted in this film really hits home is in the performance of Antonio de la Torre as Carlos, who convincingly portrays the type who many would describe as charming and affable if they met him in a business setting, whom apartment-dwellers would say “nice, but kept mostly to himself” if news reporters came asking about him; and Olimpia Melinte, who is perhaps more compelling because as both Nina and her sister Alexandra she adds to the commentary of the film. Melinte, like her characters is Romanian but working in Spain. She not only performs with equal comfort in either language, but also renders these two sisters as separate, yet clearly related despite having little time to work with one of them.
Cannibal works because it departs from an expected course, revels in ambivalence and discomfort; and eschews histrionics. The close of the film is jaw-dropping due to one revelation, if not the overall outcome. Fans of suspense or horror and art house films may find something to like here. Those who appreciate both are likely the ideal target for this film. For any of the above it is worth seeking out. It is available on DVD now from Film Movement.