Thursday, January 10, 2008

Carnal – review

Directed by: Fabián Forte

Release date: 2003

Contains spoilers

This Argentinean film is somewhat of an oddity. My first thought, when settling down to watch it, was that it came across very much as a dogme piece and, indeed, it was all shot on hand-cam and in sequence – though whether it maintained the other dogme rules is unlikely. The story itself is rather simple.

We begin with a man in a library, he is browsing books when he spots a woman, we only see her eyes and lips, looking at him through the shelves. They are back at a house before you know it and we see, whilst they get it on, a shadowy figure of another woman in the doorway watching them. The woman who is with the man opens a switchblade and strikes.

Edu (Federico Bezenzette) and his friend Pato (Guido Krilovetski) are working together on some sort of school project. Pato calls his fiancé but only gets her answering machine. They decide to eat but the pizza company aren’t answering and so head out onto the street. As they look for somewhere open Pato believes he can smell something, calls his fiancé again to no avail and then spots a couple having sex in a doorway.

They eventually eat (during which Pato realises that the odd smell is akin to an abattoir odour) and, heading back to continue the project, it is noted that the sexually active couple are gone but there is blood where they had been. They pass two women, Marcel (Alexia Zampano) and Maria (Mara Said), and Pato chats them up – getting the men an invite to their place. Edu isn’t too sure, he wants to finish the project, but Pato is insistent.

The house is odd. The two women go to freshen up but seem to be dragging stuff around. Edu finds a book full of pictures of the dead, Pato goes to the toilet to remove his ring and the lights keep cutting for a second. When Maria goes to a fridge we notice there are bags of blood in it. Maria is obsessed with dolls and tells the story of one, which was a puppet used by priests in anti-syphilis morality plays. Eventually Edu pricks his lip which Maria licks and a full sex session erupts.

Afterwards the two men shower, but the girls seem to want more. Maria has refused to take her top off and we see that blood seeps through the fabric. To distract Edu from this she instigates more sex, but afterwards, whilst she sleeps he looks at her back and notices wounds. Trying to leave he sees Marcel drinking from Pato’s neck and is injected by Maria with something that paralysis him.

They are now at the mercy of two vampires, who seem to harvest body parts as well, and we wonder if either man will escape.

The film, as I say, has a simple plot – get off with girls, girls are vampires, plenty of torture and oddness, try to escape. The girls are vampires rather than psychos; they do grow fangs, drool a lot and growl in attack. Much, however, is unanswered as the film relies on visual narrative more than anything. We know there is an urn that contains something taken from Pato, perhaps his essence. We are never sure what though, just that Marcel applies whatever it is to her face and is jealous of the contents. We know that they cannot stand sunlight as we see the effects.

There is some sort of beast man in the cellar, that wears a gasmask until he is bound and given a suitcase (full of flesh?) to eat. The film hides much from us, giving glimpses or revealing things in sound. That conceals the low level of effects admirably and it doesn’t feel too forced, but more a part of the film technique. Maria seems to collect young men, or their corpses at least, much as she collects dolls and she speaks to Edu when he is paralysed as though he were a doll.

The acting isn’t anything to write home about, nor is it anything to complain about too much either. However, what the film does well is surround the viewer in a claustrophobic atmosphere that seems almost born of arthouse filmmaking. The film runs for 114 minutes and yet despite a simplistic plot and lack of narrative it never becomes boring, ghoulishly fascinating would be a better description.

The film ends on a twist, unfortunately it is very obvious, though it also reveals the reason for the harvesting of organs/body parts and that wasn’t obvious through the film.

An odd film, as I said ghoulishly fascinating and yet very simplistic and not really going anywhere, it is likely to be hated amongst some viewers. I personally would say 4 out of 10 would be a fair score. It rises above its limitations but is still, oddly, limited.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

I bought this for, I want to say $1 at a going-out-of-business sale. I put it in and watched the trailer. It looked like it had the budget of a porn flick so I didn;t bother with it again. Your fair to middling review might make me pull it back out.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Derek - I can only repeat what I put in the review, it raises above the limitations but it is still, oddly, limited.

The budgetry issues are born from the very dogme style, but I did like the fact that they seemed to get around the budget in a way that didn't seem forced.

A very strange film, all in all - definitely worth a watch (at least the once). Just don't be surprised if you dislike it - its one of those films that you'll either be fascinated with or hate (hopefully you'll fall into the former, however)