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[The final, complete version of Jorge Michel Grau's We Are What We Are premiered tonight in the Director's Fortnight program in Cannes and though I wasn't able to attend thanks to a late-running meeting, I did catch the in-progress version of the film in Guadalajara earlier this year and I repeat that review now. And, yes, while I know it's not for everyone and those who disagree with me will probably do so loudly, it's still my favorite film of the year.]

Though I will need to double check my notes for the past few months before saying this definitively, Jorge Michel Grau's debut feature Somos Lo Que Hay may just be the best film I have seen all year. This is not to suggest that it does not have its flaws - because it does - or that it will be to everyone's taste - because it won't - but Grau has just delivered the most confident, poised and unique debut to hit screens in quite some time. And while it may not seem all that impressive to cry "Film of the year! So far!" when it is only March, the last time I had a similar reaction this early in the year the film in question was Swedish stunner Let The Right One In, a film that Grau's shares some passing similarities with.

We begin with tragedy, with a man comfortably past middle age spitting up blood and collapsing dead in the middle of a busy public walkway. Though he is a nondescript man - such a nobody that he is simply dragged away by local cleaners and the police never bother any serious attempt at identifying him - he is quite important in the lives of the three teenaged children he leaves behind and the spouse he leaves a widow.

That the family is left bereaved is nothing surprising, this is a normal consequence of a death but it cuts a little deeper here. You see, this family has a difference, they follow strict, cannibalistic religious rites and with Father gone they are thrown into complete disarray. Who will perform the rites? What - i.e. who - will they eat? And who is going to do the hunting?

And so, much like Let The Right One In, what we have here is a film built on a horror premise - and this does, indeed, become quite horrific - but which is as much, if not more, a family drama and teen coming of age story. For the mantle of leadership, it seems, must fall on Alfredo, an introverted teen who wants nothing to do with the responsibility but must take on the mantle if his family is to survive despite the objections of his mother and moderately sociopathic brother.

Beautifully shot and constructed, Grau builds a truly unique animal here, a film that is entirely its own. Though I've heard comments from some Spanish-speakers here that the performances are uneven I personally found the four principal actors - the three teenaged children and their mother - excellent, in particular the young man who played Alfredo. There's a natural stillness to him that serves him - and the film - well throughout the entire picture, a natural demeanor that hints at all sorts of depths to be plumbed.

Audiences coming in looking for gore must be warned to be patient. This is a character picture much more than a full blooded horror and though the cannibal sequences are shockingly graphic when they arrive, Grau takes his time getting there.

That time is the one major issue with the picture, not because it takes too long, per se - I would argue that spending as much time with the characters as we do before arriving at the bloody finale makes it all that much more powerful when it does arrive - but because the film lacks a bit of focus in the early going. This is clearly Alfredo's story and he is clearly the character that most will identify the most strongly with but the editing decisions, particularly early on, don't always support that fact. A mild re-edit, shaving perhaps three or four minutes off the running time and putting the focus more squarely on Alfredo's shoulders, would serve this one well.

But, changes made or not, Somos Lo Que Hay is still a remarkable piece of work from a very talented young director.  May this be just the first of many from Grau.

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More about Somos Lo Que Hay 27, 2010 2:45 PM

I caught this at Cannes and even though the screening didn't have English subtitles and I didn't understand much of the dialogue I still thought it was possibly my favourite film of the festival.