LFF 2018: The Cannibal Club Review
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Biting satire is given a whole new literal meaning in The Cannibal Club [O Clube dos Canibais, 2018], a Brazilian-set story exploring class tensions and the rich-poor divide. With twisted turns and a macabre undercurrent, writer-director Guto Parente delves into the world of affluent couple Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios), who enjoy their wealth and all the benefits that come with it. Yet we soon learn that they have developed an appetite for something darker – a taste for human flesh that their regular roster of servants enables them to keep continually satisfied. After all, who would question this influential couple, particularly when they lead such quiet, perfect lives?
Opening on a peaceful beach scene, a beautiful blue sky stretching as far as the eye can see, Parente at first keeps this morbid central concept at bay, introducing us to the couple in their huge mansion home, as well as the caretaker who seems to have his eyes on Gilda. That heavenly Brazilian setting draws us in, lulling us into a false sense of security in the same way it does to their unsuspecting victims, who seem pleased to work for such a prosperous, amicable couple. Yet this serenity is soon shattered by an explosive moment of violence – a visceral, shocking scene that abruptly changes the tone, and which sets up what’s to come throughout the rest of the story. Gruesome in its execution and with a gallows humour that runs throughout, Parente pulls us into the horrid world of Otavio and Gilda, these violent moments often more difficult to watch when he keeps the gore just out of frame, sickening sound effects allowing our minds to fill in the blanks (such as when we see the titular club for the first time). However these grim scenes never detract from the broad themes of wealth and poverty that run throughout, Parente comparing Otavio and Gilda to the poorer people who keep their lives comfortable (from their caretakers to their many security guards), ably using his intriguing premise as a form of social commentary.
While this macabre concept drives the majority of the narrative, The Cannibal Club is the most compelling when Parente steps away from this, instead showing us the day-to-day activities of Otavio and Gilda. From his business meetings, to her exercising or lounging about the house, to the parties they regularly attend, both of them seem startlingly normal, throwing the darker aspect of their lives into even starker contrast. This is particularly chilling whenever Parente combines the two, such as a scene featuring the couple arguing across the dinner table while they are enjoying the taste of their latest victim – a moment you can’t help but laugh at. It is also their more sinister activities that give the normality of their lives the thrill they so desperately crave, Parente hinting that they are able to get away with what they do simply because of the power of money. It is only when Gilda discovers a secret about Otavio’s boss (Pedro Domingues) that they suddenly find they aren’t so untouchable after all, their riches no match for the terrifying chain of command that runs the titular club.
It is this twist in the tale that is the most surprising, Parente suddenly aligning us with the couple as they become increasingly fearful of the danger that may be just around the corner. Despite this, it is here that Parente’s story loses its way, this new direction it takes detracting from that central idea and leaving our interest flagging. While Tavinho Teixeira and Ana Luiza Rios’ central performances are exceptional throughout, the fact that we know what the couple get up to in their spare time means we just don’t care what happens to them, something that takes away from the overall tension of the narrative. A sudden perspective switch to one of their new caretakers (Zé Maria) is also confusing and unnecessary, Parente attempting to show us how the poorer side of society lives, but without truly delving into this beyond a couple of thinly written scenes. As such, the latter half of the film is a chore to watch, a later ‘twist’ offering us a small thrill, but unable to stop the rest of the film from falling flat, particularly its dull, abrupt ending.
The central premise of the wealthy eating the poor is a clever concept, yet too literal a metaphor to be truly engaging. Parente’s narrative often loses its way, particularly during the second half when he tries to regain momentum after it takes an unexpected and bizarre turn. It’s a beautifully put together film though, the stunning colour palette that runs throughout rich and eye-catching, while the gruesome moments are sickeningly compelling. However there is little on the menu here to truly satisfy us.