Reviewed for the Miami International Film Festival 2014.
Caníbal reveals a lot about itself in its three-minute opening shot; a cold, unobtrusive look at two people at a gas station, revealed to be shown through the perspective of a man in a car in the distance. If that’s not the perfect way to kick off a film entirely focused on showing one man’s troubled mind and heart through a calculated lens, with a couple of twists and turns along the way, nothing is.
Adapted from Humberto Arenal’s novel Caríbal, Manuel Martín Cuenca’s film tells the tale of a prestigious self-kept tailor whose relationship with women boils down to killing and eating them. His neighbor Alexandra, a woman whose pink mohair suit and blonde hair gives her a look about as close to Nastassja Kinski in Paris, Texas as you can get, seems to be a bit of a hindrance to his stability. With her death by his hand comes the presence of others, most notably her nearly identical sister Nina (also played by Melinte), who proves to be even more detrimental for him than the other. To say that not a lot happens in Caníbal wouldn’t be far from the truth, and yet, nearly every moment of its existence captivates one in just the right way, with the possibility of romance and death always lingering in the air.
Cuenca and director of photography Pau Esteve Birba move the camera ever so slowly, sometimes not even at all, and it’s a great fit for the film’s story and its lead character. It’s almost sickening simply watching Carlos stalk his prey through such a lens; one of the most haunting scenes being that of him staring at a woman fruitlessly attempt to stay alive in the ocean after witnessing the death of her partner by his hand on an isolated shore. Interestingly enough, he avoids showing most of the gory details of it all, with the sole exception being near the very beginning, with barely a splash of blood. Even then, the way the first depiction of body to meat is shown is artful, not in the same way that, say, Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal might present it, but in an almost beautiful manner that avoids being too gruesome while maintaining an unsettling atmosphere.
While there’s no gore in the picture, Cuenca has no qualms about nudity — featuring both men and women in all their glory for the sake of presenting the most striking image possible. So much of the film is gorgeously shot, its look a weird yet fitting accompaniment to the romantic and disturbing story that Alejandro Hernández and Rafael de la Uz have adapted. The performances match the mood just as well, with Antonio de la Torre’s cool and collected performance as Carlos mirroring the quiet atmosphere of Caníbal perfectly. In his co-star Olimpia Melinte though, we find something rare in an actress: the ability to play two completely independent characters. In her case, it’s vaguely reminiscent of how Kim Novak did it back in Vertigo; the similarities that she delivers in personality, mannerisms, and charisma tie these two women together as sisters, and yet they stand so far apart from each other that they hardly feel like the same actress at all.
I find myself more and more convinced every day that Spain is in the lead when it comes to countries crafting some damn impressive thrillers, be it Jaume Balagueró with Mientras duermes or Pedro Almodóvar with La piel que habito. While Caníbal is a much tamer film than those two, and considerably less ambitious with its thrills and story-building, it still proves to be a fascinating slow-burner that deserves attention.
Caníbal is available for rental through Amazon Instant Video.
Directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca; written by Alejandro Hernández and Rafael de la Uz; adapted from Humberto Arenal’s novel Caríbal; starring Antonio de la Torre and Olimpia Melinte; 116 minutes.