Considering its title, it may be hard to accept that Manuel Martin Cuenca’s Cannibal was one of the most subtle and endearing features at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
The first twenty minutes are a stunning Noir-esque example of raw grotesque violence in coordination with stunning visuals, subtle but powerful. These scenes, like all scenes of macabre nature in the film, are done in such tasteful ways they remove the surface layer of cheap shock and cut straight to the heart of an often sickening but sad affair. After this opening the film constantly battles with its own particular style, wanting to maintain its tame direction whilst maximising the brutality of its core themes. Basically sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and when it doesn’t it can start to get dull.
Cuenca’s latest feature is, like the rest of his films, seeped in Spanish culture, though here in a very different way. The powerful colour palette and mad energy found so abundantly in other Spanish features are here transmuted to a much more sedate affair in the story of how a respected tailor’s murderous intent draws him into the life of a young woman whose sister he murdered. The pace is slower, the narrative a little barer, characters are rarely above-board; instead the feature operates like a Hitchcock thriller wrapped beautifully in the charming monotony of a Granada tailor’s life. The focus here is rarely the grotesque devices of actual cannibalism, and more the realistic portrayal of the lonely perpetrator.
Like Norman Bates and Mark Lewis, Carlos (Antonio de la Torre) is a man leading a perfectly “normal” life bar the one bizarre feature that has made him film-worthy. Antonio De La Torre gives a masterful account of Cannibal‘s deranged bachelor; his performance oozes unstrained charisma and confidence whilst maintaining the shadowy nature of a hunter. though undeniably a formidable force, Carlos is lacking in the conventional behaviors we tie to all screen killers, what I mean by that is that we never once see the rage and terror of a murderer boil to the surface in a Patrick Bateman rush of violence. Cuenca keeps all the cards flush against his chest, allowing slight flurries of movement that peak our interest, but overall there’s nothing flashy about Carlos’ behavior. This is another important point in Cannibal, the tragic portrayal of Carlos as a man, victim to his own murderous intent. This intent sees him kill not for thrill, but habit.
After the stunning introductory murder, Cannibal strolls ever deeper into the realm of – dare I say – the mundane, focusing far too much of its run time on surplus scenery which, though pretty, falls in its ability to successfully hook. Still, a magnetic lead performance, great supporting cast, and some incredibly tasteful macabre leave the film in a fairly laudable stead.
Dir: Manuel Martin Cuenga
Stars: Antonio de La Torre, Olimpia Melinti, Maria Alfona Rosso, Florin Fildan