CIFF 2010: We Are What We Are

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“We Are What We Are is a film that has many good elements but unfortunately it’s spare parts are a lot better than it’s whole.”

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay)

Directed by Jorge Michel Grau

Written by Jorge Michel Grau

Mexico, 2010

We Are What We Are is a film that has many good elements but unfortunately its spare parts are a lot more effective than its whole.  It has uniformly terrific performances; Mexico City has rarely looked this good at night; it has style to burn; the concept is interesting; there are some sequences that show real directorial flourish.  However, the film is fairly limp and even boring in places, and it is not helped by an unnecessary subplot that cuts in at just the wrong time followed by a rushed conclusion.

The film is set around a family of cannibals who, after the death of the leader of their little clan, must regroup and start over. The leader of their clan is the husband, who along with his wife and their three kids carry out the deeds at night.  Supposedly the leader of the clan is the eldest male and he has to go out and actually hunt the prey.  The director, Jorge Michel Grau, does a good job of capturing the everyday family dynamics and he is very good with actors.  As eldest son Alfredo, Francisco Barrerio is a brooding and soulful lightning rod.  He can appear calm and collected but is really burning on the inside.  When he lets it out, Barreio does a great job of capturing real angst while avoiding scenery chewing.  However the standout performance in the film comes from Paulina Gaitán, as the calm and cool Sabina.  In a way, she is the most in-control member of this family and she should be the leader.  Gaitán is a million miles away from the sweet runaway she played in Sin Nombre and the terrified young girl in Trade.  She is absolutely chilling here and is an actress to watch out for.

This is Grau’s first film and it unfortunately feels like it.  It is strangely both ambitious and unambitious at the same time, because Grau tries to have it both ways.  He wants to make a horror film that scares and he also wants to make a family drama, however the two don’t gel together at all.  While the performances give the characters a lot of presence, they ultimately reveal themsleves to be flat and simplistic.  The film then shifts into thriller mode – way too late in the game.  What we end up getting is a mess, and while the mess is sometimes interesting, it is never really all that satisfying.

-Joshua Youngerman

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