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BLACK NIGHTS 2021 First Feature Competition

Review: Other Cannibals

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- This year’s First Feature Competition victor is an unnerving tale of an oddly well-adjusted cannibal, by debuting director Francesco Sossai

Review: Other Cannibals
Walter Giroldini and Diego Pagotto in Other Cannibals

An undoubted breakthrough title at this year’s Tallinn Black Nights, Other Cannibals [+see also:
interview: Francesco Sossai
film profile
]
is one of those wilfully grim films that commits to its tone and intention so deliberately that it comes out the other end as a bit of a stealth-black comedy. This is appropriate for its genesis as a film school-funded project as part of director Francesco Sossai’s studies, but it’s also hard to imagine its commercial afterlife beyond the festivals rightfully impressed enough to select it, although this can be considered a compliment: it resembles the broodingly quiet student at the back of a writing class, not drawing attention to themselves, but possessed of the most twisted and disarming ideas. The movie was granted the top prize in the just-concluded festival’s First Feature Competition (see the news).

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Following the example of European horror-realism hybrids like Let the Right One In [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: John Nordling
interview: Tomas Alfredson
film profile
]
and Border [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ali Abbasi
film profile
]
, the monochrome-shot Other Cannibals explores its titular taboo from a downbeat and domestic angle, where the “monsters” stalk quotidian environments like the pub or a hardware store (although what could be scarier than that, perhaps?). But the deft feat that Sossai achieves, at least until its underwhelming ending, is making the nature of the central relationship that unfolds – between a cannibal and his lone prey – fairly ambiguous. It’s really the title – directly identifying the taboo – that gives any undoubted meaning to the events we see, comprising two men, of very different backgrounds, stalking a dilapidated house and having the occasional banal but charged interaction with locals from the surrounding area, the Italian Dolomites. Take away the framing provided by the title, and we might misattribute them as surreptitious lovers, or vampires – or our understanding of which man is the cannibal and which the victim could be reversed.

Fausto (Walter Giroldini, a skilful non-professional) is a diligent machinist at a factory that makes, in his words, “precision mechanics”; his stringy, unkempt grey hair and blotchy cheeks help him resemble one of the most frightening characters in TV or film, Twin Peaks’ Killer BOB. Ivan (Diego Pagotto) is a Philosophy PhD student at a university in nearby Padua – Fausto, slightly heartbreakingly, asks him at one point if he seems “a bit old to be a student”. Although it isn’t depicted, they’ve clearly met anonymously on the internet, and this is the meet-and-greet. Or meet-and-eat, as a gift from the clearly depressed younger man to the other.

Fausto’s motivations don’t seem rigorously upheld enough to even be called a “plan” or a “scheme”, and Ivan is oddly tentative – it feels like a key detail has purposefully been left elliptical for the on-screen events by Sossai and his co-screenwriter, Adriano Candiago, or like the former character has touchingly shown a kind of mercy on the latter. But what rings truest is its unveiling of the extent of Fausto’s concealed life: gradually, we realise the appeal of working in that factory, amidst all the rusty, chipping metal, and the potential for accidents – although this is expressed in too blunt and comic a manner in its concluding scenes. Is it fair to call Fausto a taboo-breaking predator? Even when he might be skilfully and conscientiously suppressing his urges, integrating as best he can into society – and even loving his mother, too? (After all, he still lives with and cooks for her, but don’t worry, their preferred cuisine is stockfish.)

Other Cannibals is a German production staged by Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin.

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