Carlos (Antonio de la Torre) is the most prestigious tailor in Granada (Spain), but he has a secret life as a serial killer. He captures women – in the opening scene he causes a car crash – and he takes his victims to his remote mountain cabin where he slices them up for their meat. The butchery is discreet: we hear the chopper descend and see a trickle of blood dripping off the marble slab. But compared to most cannibal films, it’s pretty polite.
No pretence of an explanation is given for the act of cannibalism, although it is done in so ceremonious a fashion that some reviewers have speculated that it represents a form of transubstantiation: the body and blood of the women is, for him, the body and blood of communion. Carlos is a respected church goer, and the priest has him repairing sacred fabrics. He attends church, where we hear about the blood and body of Christ.
Carlos seems to feels no guilt about this hobby, slicing his expensive woollen suit fabrics as precisely and dispassionately as he gathers his meat, and he is a man of precise habits, reading nothing but tailoring texts and eating nothing but a fillet of meat with a nice glass of vino tinto. His prey seems to be exclusively women: he kills men, but then seems to lose interest in their carcasses. Could this be his form of love or erotic attraction? Or is it a deeper psychoanalytic condition where women are blamed for the woes of the world (check out the book of Genesis) or seen as more “animal” because they breed and bleed? Or is it a comment on the modern meat industry, which uses female animals for their reproductive output (milk, eggs, etc) then turns them into meat when they are worn out?
His routine is interrupted when a beautiful but noisy immigrant from Romania appears in his life and peeks into his fridge, commenting on his apparently paleo diet. The last we see of her, she is getting into his car. Later, her much more demure twin sister arrives looking for her (both are played by Olimpia Melinte), and she awakens in Carlos something akin to love. She speculates that he had once had a girlfriend who hurt him badly. She asks him if he likes girls. “I like girls” he replies. Probably not in quite the way she meant though.
What happens when you fall in love with your next meal?
Some have suggested that Manuel Martín Cuenca, the director, could have edited out at least half an hour of nothing happening, but then you tend to hear that while shuffling out of the screening of most European movies. I thought the movie was beautifully made and quite engrossing, as we watch the dispassionate killer gradually make a connection, begin to see the face of the other. Cuenca himself asked: “If the devil fell in love and if through love he understands the feeling of compassion, what would happen?”
Caníbal got only a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the review website) but, on the other hand, Variety wrote:
Sumptuously shot in carefully composed long takes, Caníbal puts every scene in perfect aesthetic balance – the scenery and colours all harmonise, whether a snow covered mountain, a neat tailor’s shop or a naked body being hacked up. The film firmly keeps its butchery off-screen and, given its glacial pace and lack of overt sensationalism, it definitely ranks as a niche item — and a rarefied one, at that. But sophisticated arthouse audiences might eat it up.
Another reviewer said “this feels like a short film stretched out to two hours”. I disagree, but at least you have been warned.
The important difference here from most cannibal films is that there is no real attempt to understand why Carlos eats women. They are just his preferred meat. Cuenca says:
“Carlos could be your dad or husband or friend. Carlos eating female flesh every night at the table with his utensils and civilised manners is each and every one of us every evening.”