Romanian film review – To die for: Cannibal

Caníbal/Cannibal is one of the most intriguing films I’ve seen this year. And now that it’s been running in cinemas, I can assure you that you’ll be very sorry if you miss it. Compared to the other recent Romanian releases, this is by far the most thrilling, and I don’t mean just its explosive subject matter.

A Spanish-Romanian co-production, Cannibal has such a mad premise it could be either a disaster or a masterpiece. It’s not exactly the latter, but still a very good film.

Carlos is a perfectly-dressed, handsome, lonely high-end tailor who lives in Granada and spends his days working, meeting his seamstress Aurora and eating his dinners alone. The dinners include only mean, human meat, to be more precise (no, the movie’s title isn’t a metaphor). He hunts down his victims, who seem to be only women, and processes their flesh in his cabin in the mountains.

One day, an attractive Romanian masseuse moves into his building and after she disappears, her equally beautiful but more down-to-earth sister comes looking for her. A strange relationship develops between the two and Carlos’ routine and instincts get disrupted...

The acting is superb, Antonio de la Torre (you may know him from Pedro Almodóvar‘s films) is enthralling as the handsome, mysterious and moving hero. And this is director Manuel Martín Cuenca’s biggest achievement: to make a character with such an ‘abnormal’ peculiarity make us feel compassion and, yes, even sympathy.

Carlos is depicted as neither a monster nor a pathetic creature to feel pity for. It would have helped to have more background information on his predilection (does it have a sexual, Freudian origin, or more of a religious one? Or is he simply a psychopath?) but the film also works without giving anything away.

Young Romanian actress Olimpia Melinte plays both sisters and her unworldly beauty and vulnerability are a perfect match to Carlos’ sombre appearance. Their relationship unfolds in unexpected ways and the restrained, delicate display of emotions makes it not just believable but very touching.

The film’s US poster has the word “somptuous” plastered over it in huge letters and this is indeed the best term to describe it. The film’s gorgeous formal elegance and precision is matched by the hero’s precision and cleanness in all his actions.

Cannibal may be too slow, too long or too quiet for some (I have to confess I also find it mildly guilty of being a bit too long) but if you go with the films ravishing rhythm and visuals, it’s an arresting experience. It’s overall lavishness is impressive and for all it’s calm there are also a few scenes that are pure (thriller) perfection. And on top of that, Cannibal also has one of the best opening scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

Cannibal releases across Romanian cinemas on July 11.

By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, ioana.moldovan@romania-insider.com