My attempted (and longest ever) film review for class. Questions, comments, suggestions for improvement?
Somos Lo Que Hay (We Are What We Are)
Director and writer Jorge Michel Grau’s “Somos Lo Que Hay” (2010) is a social commentary disguised as a horror film using cannibalism as a metaphor for the unjust life being lived in Mexico City. Within this world we follow a family left in disarray, yet the story lines are blurred until we realize that Alfredo (the oldest son) is our protagonist, giving us the audience a more guided focus. Grau’s Alfredo fights against his ongoing family’s ritual causing tension within the household, yet Grau skimps on the precise details of this ritual and the characters’ motivation that revolve around it. Without knowing the motivation we, the audience, have a hard time sympathizing for the characters but, he in turn slowly takes his time with them, giving us more depth into their dreary lives with the stillness they possess in their raw surroundings. As the shift of responsibility falls onto the shoulders of Alfredo we concern ourselves with his struggles of the family dynamics changing throughout the different locations used and tension between them only gets thicker.
The film silently and eerily opens with a sickly man sluggishly walking; he is the absent father, who dies in the mall center. The local street cleaners immediately drag his body away and return to erase the traces left of this man. The pedestrians are not affected by this in the slightest, nor do the detectives make an attempt at identifying him. Grau includes black humor and heavily fills the script with subtext in the exchange between the coroner and detectives when a finger is found inside the father – the detectives won’t investigate the finger since they don’t investigate any cases and many people go missing because of cannibalism, it’s common and not their concern.
Grau enforces the desperation and personality lived by those in Mexico City, by the vast locations incorporated in the films. Our family not only lives in disharmony by differing opinions, their whole city lives in the same discord – each for their own as we see the interactions at markets, ghettos, underneath the city’s highway, and on subways. The only sense of unity is from society’s lowest: the prostitutes who work the street corners. Inside the family’s home, walls are concealed with ticking clocks – there is barely any natural light, if any light at all. Dialogue is limited between the siblings and Alfredo, but when they do interact in the darkened hallways, Grau uses deadpan shots as they eyeball each other, if not he’s using close-ups of their eyes peering behind doors until they shut him out visually showing a jarred relationship.
The relationship is jarred but they are still dependent on Alfredo. He accepts this ritual of cannibalism not as perversion but as a way of keeping his family alive and together. The ritual is an unclear one; there are no concrete consequences or rules that we, the audience know. And the confusion and questioning of the continuation of the ritual makes us doubt whether Alfredo knows any more than we do about the ritual filling the film’s tone with desperation. That is until Alfredo is handed a note saying “you are alive” by a former beggar – this turn in events changes the film’s slow build to a fast pace as the film parallels all its characters changing the film’s genre to horror - and we watch behind murky curtains the mother and daughter hacking away at a body preparing for the ritual.
Towards the end of the film, Alfredo and his siblings show us the depth of their decaying world and the emotional pain of being preyed on in Mexico City. Their long drained out stares are replaced by loud cries and them huddled together in such close proximity never seen before. Grau once again touches base on his social commentary: the mother leaves the family behind to save herself; the police kill off the detectives and hide the truth; the detectives’ interest in solving the case was for money and sex with one of the youngest prostitutes. The exploits going on in present day Mexico City is cannibalism. The civilians prey on those beneath them to advance themselves through corruption, letting the lives of others disintegrate to where it’s a common problem undeserving of attention.