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The gorgeous north Italian province of South Tirol is turned into a nefarious, ominous place in Other Cannibals, a black comedy that uses its strange premise to force an unusual sense of empathy from its characters. Genuinely unpredictable with a great sense of spontaneity and unforced performances, it keeps you guessing right until the final, deliciously absurd finale.
Other Cannibals starts in a factory, close-ups of machines — coupled with the name of the film itself — suggesting we are in for a straight-up horror experience, the first of many bait-and-switches throughout its runtime. Fausto (Walter Giroldini) finishes his shift then stops by his mother’s house, asking for the keys to his late father’s house. Then he drives to the train station and picks up the mysterious Ivan (Diego Pagotto). At first it looks like a hookup. Or perhaps Ivan wants to rent a room. It’s only when he makes a reference to tranquillisers and sleeping pills that we realise something strange is going to happen.
I refuse to ruin anymore of the plot, because this is one of those movies where you want to experience what’s happening along with the characters. Scenes stretch out beyond the bounds of conventional wisdom, often caught in long takes while using a Dogme-style approach to editing, keeping us in the dark as to what could happen next. The black-and-white photography seems to be more of a ploy to keep the film simple rather than a fully thought-through stylistic choice. And while it’s a bit of a shame not to see the Dolomites in their full glory, it does help to stress the film’s unadorned approach.
As the title suggests, Fausto wants to do something really odd, but along the way we discover that he cannot truly commit to anything in his life. When asked about his factory job, he says that it’s temporary, despite working there since 1998. He has been paying off his car loan forever. There are no women in sight. You start rooting for him without even knowing what he might do next. It’s the magic of cinema that we can feel for people with such perversions. In one brilliant moment, Fausto describes the elation he felt when Italy won the 1982 world cup, besting Maradona’s Argentina, the greatest ever Brazil team and even the Germans. Almost every man has a story like this, making Fausto just like us. Right?
There is a touch of Ben Wheatley here, both in the handheld camerawork and the adherence to naturalism while something more sinister is lurking beneath the surface. The landscape plays a strange role, showing off the unique nature of South Tirol, mixing Austrian and Italian cultures while maintaining a strong independent streak and individual customs. It feels like a landscape stuck in time, especially when the local men, wearing their funny hats with feathers in them, sing a gorgeous multi-harmony ode to mountain life. It’s a beautiful moment in a bizarre film, which blends disparate tones and moods with ease. Never has cannibalism seemed so endearing.
Other Cannibals plays in the First Feature section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 12-28th November.