Ear And Loathing In Mexico City

Ear And Loathing In Mexico City

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Chelsea Cinema 

Release date: March 21st 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 90 minutes
Original language: Spanish with English Subtitles

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Cast: Adrian Aguirre, Miriam Balderas, Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato

Let me paint you a picture.

A dishevelled man staggers through the immaculate shimmer of a shopping mall, the vaulted steel and glass symbol of a new Mexico.

He reaches out in desire or despair towards the bikinied manikins separated from him by a display window which reproduces his anguished features. He falls to his knees, crawls, vomits blood and perishes.

A team of cleaning staff haul him from sight and wash the sullied floor with nonchalant efficiency.

This gentleman was until recently the patriarch of a penniless family who, whether out of preference or necessity, are united in a predilection for human flesh. They dwell (live would be too strong a word) in a dank but commodious apartment, disordered with trinkets and clocks. The spreading darkness of mould commingles with the vampiric darkness of perpetual night: heavy red curtains prevent daylight from falling on their odious deeds.

We Are What We Are

The implication is that poverty has driven Father to the recourse of nightly expeditions to depredate the underclass population. Or, at least, this is the pragmatic and socially diagnostic explanation of the behaviour. It is supported by the mortician’s insouciant remark that “it’s amazing how many people eat each other in this city”. Attached to this reading is the obvious and somewhat dated allegory of rapacious wealth and power gorging itself on the weak.

But there is another, nastier and more psychological interpretation, which mixes sexuality into this gruesome broth. We are given to understand that Pa was prone to whoring. Which, you begin wonder, came first: the whoring or the cannibalism? Did the former lead somehow to the latter? Is the film then a Swiftian satire on prostitution itself? What, after all, is prostitution but the wholesale of the flesh?

We Are What We Are

We see this played out when brothers Alfredo and Julian capture their first victim. The woman, a prostitute, screams in terror: “Please don’t hurt me! You can rape me! You can both fuck me!” as though the choice were to give them her body for sex or for food.

With this inspiration the boys set about a frenzy of blithe molestation- it’s pure psychopathy- before Mother arrives to rebuke them and smash her face in (followed by close-up). Their liberated joy at having this object to use as they wish- to fuck, to eat- is to my mind the most sickening, and compelling, moment of the film.

We Are What We Are

But, for the most part, We Are What We Are is more horrible than horrifying. It plays shock and disgust for cushy titillation. When Julian and his younger sister, the shrewd and fearsome Sheila, are seen to share an affection which exceeds the bounds of healthy filial relations (to put it about as discreetly as the film does), it isn’t particularly surprising or appalling.

By this point you know that these taboos are being broken methodically: we’ve already had child abduction, attended rape, graphic dismemberment, casual murder, cannibalism, endemic prostitution, homophobia (“I don’t eat fags”!), scandalous and commonplace police corruption, and child prostitution. This inundation of wrongness facilitates and encourages an aesthetic detachment from the horror, freeing us up to enjoy the transgressions without moral misgivings. Which would be fine, except that We Are What We Are evidently wants to be understood as a politically inflected film.

We Are What We Are

Instead of awakening pity in our dormant hearts for the widespread indigence and misery we are given to understand exists in Mexico City, the film encourages us to idly wonder which taboo it celebrates as higher.

With gradations of modesty appointed to each- bloody mouths and tearing flesh are quite prominent, for example- the hierarchy of “revulsion” it seems to present will probably surprise you. The choice is characteristic of this entertaining, well executed but ultimately frivolous movie.

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