|Here we go: the heart of the matter. This is entirely, needless to say, based on personal preference. But don't worry. I have a history of some damn good taste.|
#1 - Delicatessen (Dir. Marc Caro, 1991)
The piece de resistance. I saw this for the first time in high school, when a few of us nerdy kids decided to have a "film festival," which meant that about four of us got to use school projection equipment to watch whatever movies we wanted after school. Good deal, all round. I told everyone for years that this was my favorite cannibalism movie, but began to be consumed with doubt: what if my fondness for the flick was merely a result of high school idiocy? I mean, shit, back then I was a hard-core Trekkie. I used to wear a grey sweatshirt that said: "Ole Swenson: Outstanding in His Field," that had a picture of a Swedish farmer standing in the middle of a plowed field, because I thought it was the funniest damn thing since Sam Kinison popped a blood vessel and that it made me look intellectually cool. Clearly, my high school sensibilities were not to be trusted.
Fortunately, a short while ago I was able to catch a showing of Delicatessen with a friend at what was sort of a little one-time art house showing. It was still fantastic. It's funny, it's startling, it's compelling, and it can be darn pretty to look at. So, the rundown on Delicatessen:
Plot: The action takes place in an apartment building in post-apocalyptic France. We're never entirely sure of the exact nature of the cataclysm that's sent everything straight to hell, but there appears to be some sort of nuclear winter going on: plant life, and therefore food, is incredibly scarce. Grains and cereals are used as currency, and the tenants pay their rent with it. The landlord - who is, incidentally, enormous, vile and frightening - has sacks of grain locked up in his office, hoards food like a miser, and runs the building with an iron fist. If you can't pay your rent one month - well, you pick a family member you're not overly attached to, and everyone gets to eat meat for a while.
Handing over the goods.
The diet is occasionally (maybe often) supplemented with the place's handymen; they don't last long, and it's really not worth getting attached to them. However, the landlord's half-blind, tyrannized daughter Julie does. When she falls in love with the new handyman, Louison (Dominique Pinon), a former circus clown, her father complains that it's always the same with her; she tries to save each one. This time, she maintains, it's different - and she certainly appears to be correct. The plot becomes ever more bizarre as Julie conspires with a group of underground vegetarian guerillas to save her sweetheart's life. But the movie is more than worth the a bumps in the road, and even the minor characters are charming: an apparently delusional, suicidal woman who rigs up faulty Rube Goldberg-esque machines in order to kill herself; a man self-entombed in a basement, surrounded by the frogs and snails he lives on; the landlord's brassy mistress, who amorally bounces and wriggles her way through the film. It's very funny in many little human ways and all of the performances are marvelous. And take a good look at the pictures: it's beautifully filmed in sepia tones.
Julie and Louison having a tender moment. She's playing the cello; he is accompanying her on musical saw.
Cannibalism: Nothing very graphic here. Some gruesome and graphic deaths, but not too much in the way of seeing people chomp into each other. The landlord hands over these innocuous-looking little white packages which people shuffle off to their rooms with, and that's that. The horror of cannibalism in this film lies not in watching it happen, but in witnessing the entire building's tacit assent to the system they live in. The effect is very creepy and horrifyingly funny; you can just sort of feel the threat of cannibalism throughout the movie.
An ill-fated handyman.
Overall, just really a marvelous movie. That it's about cannibalism is a bonus.
#2 - Ravenous (Dir. Antonia Bird, 1999)
If there's nothing else you can say about Ravenous, you have to admit that it has one of the stranger soundtracks devised for a movie about cannibalism. Where else can you see people running screaming through the woods, being chased by people with big knives, while fiddles merrily saw away in the background? I love it. I actually thought about putting it in the "Quasi-Cannibalism Movies" section, because it is in some ways very much a vampire movie. But . . . naaaaaaaaah. There's too much clean ol' flesh-munchin' fun for it not to qualify for this section.
Plot: The story revolves around Captain Boyd (a fairly emaciated Guy Pierce, who eerily resembles a professor I used to have ), a soldier in the Mexican-American war who has unwittingly become a war hero. He froze in the middle of battle, was taken into an enemy fort as a lootable corpse, and climbed off a cart of dead men to take over the fort. Problem is, while he was on the cart, he swallowed someone else's blood, which is what miraculously gave him the strength to commit his heroic deed . . . and he wants more. But he's too moral and internally-tormented (I mean, just look at the guy. Sense his torment.) to do so. He gets promoted, but his rather nasty commanding officer knows he's a coward, and sends him off to the middle of nowhere: Fort Spencer, in a particularly godforsaken patch of the Sierra Nevadas.
Feel his pain. Feel it, damn you!
Apparently, one of Boyd's punishments for cowardice is that he must spend the rest of his military career surrounded by stereotypes. They're all here: the psycho soldier-boy, the alcoholic doctor/ex-veterinarian, the totally useless religious nut, the drugged-up cook, the stoic American Indians, and, my personal favorite, Hart: the clinically depressed intellectual commanding officer. My favorite because he's played by Jeffrey Jones, who I maintain is one of the great living character actors, although he'd probably be insulted by that characterization. You've probably seen him before; he's nearly always an asshole, an idiot, or an idiotic asshole - remember the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off? - but has a surprisingly charming sympathetic role in this little flick. Oh, incidentally, the plot purpose of the stoic American Indians is primarily to introduce the myth of the wendigo; it's what someone turns into when he/she eats human flesh, an inhumanly strong and cunning monster who always craves more long pig.
Aaaaaaaaaanyway, a half-starved Scottish guy named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) stumbles in out of the cold one night with a Donner Party-ish tale: his wagon train was caught in the snow, holed up in a cave, ran out of food, and its members fell back on eating each other when people started dying of malnutrition . . . and then killing each other for the meat. Colqhoun's escaped, but there's still a woman left back in the cave with the numbero uno cannibal killer. The Fort Spencer boys have to go on a rescue mission. After that . . . well, I'm not one for giving away endings, but all of this takes place in about the first third of the movie, and there's much, much more to follow. Boyd has to deal with his own cravings, Colqhoun is not all he seems, and most of the Fort Spencer party don't make it through the movie in one piece. There's plot twists a plenty, though, and, dark as it sounds, there's a lot of great black humor to be found in the film. If it gets a little mystical and disappointing at the end for some, the funny and bloody lead-up balance it out.
Hart and Boyd: "Son, we need to talk about your troubling need to wear that hideous sweater for fully half the movie."
Cannibalism: Oh, mais oui. There's plenty of it here. You don't actually see anyone chomping away on raw human - the medium of choice for the meat appears to be stew - but the implication is definitely present. (And produces one of the more memorable lines of the film: "He was licking me!") There's lots of blood & guts: in one unnervingly funny scene, two characters in the foreground have a long philosophical conversation, while someone in the blurred background busily further hacks away at a dismembered corpse on the chopping block. Violent death and consumption is everywhere here, and heavily flavors the movie even when not totally, graphically present.
Calqhoun pretending badly that he hasn't been licking anyone.
Bonus: Special mini-Jeffrey Jones section!
Damn, I love this guy. Have ever since I saw Without a Clue when I was about eight years old. In it, he plays a bumbling Inpector Lestrade to Michael Caine's equally bumbling Sherlock Holmes, and it was my favorite movie for years. Hart in Ravenous is just a great part for him, and helps to show a little more of his acting range than he usually gets, although it's not his best role. (That would be as Emporer Joseph II in Amadeus. Got a Golden Globe nomination for that one.)
Awwww, look at 'im. Could anyone else manage that adorable look when spattered with blood?
I mean, shit, he's just cool. And an ass-whuppin' 6'4". I would gladly have his children, if, you know, he weren't already married with kids. (Not that I've been keeping tabs or anything.) I do hope, however, that he was wearing some sort of serious padding for this role. 'Cause otherwise - damn, lay off the baconburgers, dude.
No, Jeffrey! Don't turn to the dark side!
Banjo music, easy-to-follow stereotypes, pseudo-vampirism, lots of eating people, and Jeffrey Jones. I mean, this is just a fun movie.
#3 Cannibal: the Musical
This movie's a little bit of legendary; it's one of the first big things that Trey Parker and Matt Stone - the brains behind South Park - did together. It can be tough to find, but I was lucky enough to happen upon it in a pissant little video store in rural Indiana, so you never know. I'm sure the success of South Park has made it more accessible.