We Are the Flesh: Constructing a Sadean Carnal Theatre

In its run of horror and genre festivals last year, We Are the Flesh (Tenemos la carne, Mexico/France 2016), written and directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter, stunned and divided critics and audiences alike. Its sensational material, including candid sex scenes, incest, cannibalism, orgy and slaughter, may on first view identify it as exploitation. Its inclusion in horror festivals such as Fantasia and FrightFest has also contributed to generate expectations in viewers, which can be disappointed by Rocha Minter’s demanding artistic vision. The director clearly positions himself within a history of transgressive thinkers that include George Bataille and the Marquis de Sade, referencing them in the end credits. In his film, he creates his very own Theatre of Cruelty: recalling Antonin Artaud’s principles, the film’s transformative violence and bloody rituals put viewers through an extreme sensory experience that shakes up their aesthetic and moral preconceptions, forcing them into new forms of perception.

Retiring from what seems to be a post-apocalyptic world into a womb-like cave that they help build, two siblings are led through a subversive initiation by a half-Christic, half-diabolical older man until they let go of all inhibitions to descend into a lawless, frantic, primal state of blood and lust. In this confined space, the body is everything, and the full messiness of its fluids and processes is embraced. Reducing everything to the physical is both a retreat from the Mexican outside world and a rebellion against its laws. As in Sade’s work, the body’s desires are used to challenge the social, national and religious constructions that arbitrarily regulate behaviour.

In my paper, I look at the complicated status of Rocha Minter’s astonishing debut in the horror/exploitation/genre world, as well as its position as a rare modern heir to an artistic tradition of life-intensifying transgression.

Paper delivered at the conference ‘Exploitation Cinema in the 21st Century’, Canterbury Christ Church University, June 2017.

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