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A Taste of Whale

The clash between Faroese whale hunters and animal rights activists poison the waters and the global reputation of the charming self-governing nation of the North Atlantic - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


For at least 500 years, the Faroese people have relied on the meat of pilot whales (a large species of oceanic dolphin) for their survival. The killing of entire pods, known as the Grind, is a tradition firmly established in their culture and in their hearts. Entire families take part, including women and children. They observe as the more skilled hunters hook and then slice the hapless animals, turning the grey beach of the remote archipelago red. Vivid red. A shocking scene that would make even the most horrific of horror movies pale in comparison.

The locals defend their actions: what should they buy food from abroad? Importing such large amounts of produce could have an equally or even greater environmental impact on the planet. A hunter explains that actions are more shocking than the average abattoir just because they cannot conceal the killing with walls and curtains. The level of cruelty, however, is hardly different. “It’s the red that shocks people”, argues a friendly and avuncular hunter. These people are not the sadistic and repugnant Austrian hunters of Ulrich Seidl’s Safari (2016), who kill animals without compassion, and entirely for pleasure. The Faroese are kind and warm people. They explain that the hunting is sustainable (it is indeed true that the pilot whale is not an endangered species), that they do it for their subsistence, and also that the act of killing is as humane as possible. While the first two assertions are mostly true, the third is hardly credible. The suffering of the animals is visible. You can hear them crying as they are being slaughtered. The Grind is a very difficult scene to watch.

The movie deftly opens with a quote from Paul MacCartney, which seems to support the argument of the locals: “if slaughterhouses were made of glass, we would all be vegetarians”. It is the role of cinema to create these glass walls, and French filmmaker Vincent Kelner suceeds precisely at that by authoring a film that provides a window to the most shocking human cruelty, forcing viewers to grapple with very own contradictions.

The mostly French-speaking self-proclaimed Sea Shepherds come to the rescue of the whales. They count Pamela Anderson amongst their members. At times, they may come across as patronising colonialists, but they also also make some very relevant points: the Grind is extremely cruel because animals (family members even) get killed in front of each other, the fate of the last ones to die being clear from the beginning: the animals know they are trapped and every single one is going to be slaughtered. We are told that these mammals are extremely intelligent, capable of complex communication and mourning. Anderson also makes a very valid point about tradition not being immutable. Time changes, and often culture has to adapt accordingly.

In a strange twist of fate, we learn that global pollution has poisoned the pilot whales with mercury, and that the animals are now hardly suitable for human consumption. Locals however are equally suspicious about industrialised supermarket produce: “it could be just as toxic”. Once again, a valid point. Nothing is as black and white as it seems. There are many shades of red in between.

Tender and shocking in equal measures, A Taste of Whale is a film for animals lovers and carnivores alike. It might leave a bitter taste in your mouth if you belong to the latter category. It just premiered at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 14-11-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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