The Cannibal Club. 2019. Directed & Written by Guto Parente.
Starring Tavinho Teixeira, Ana Luiza Rios, Pedro Domingues, José Maria Alves, Breno Baptista, Rodrigo Capistrano, Juliana Carvalho, Alcântra Costa, Rodrigo Fernandes, Lc Galetto, & Fátima Muniz.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Comedy / Horror
Disclaimer: The following article contains a lot of spoilers & Marxism
This site focuses on many subjects and themes that fall under the wide umbrella of critical theory. One area of major attention, considering Father Gore’s own Marxist leanings, are the many ways in which capitalism sneaks into the horror genre. The Cannibal Club is a Brazilian film out this year that uses gory horror as a vehicle for satire, choosing to take on the vast wealth gap in Brazil.
The story involves a wealthy married couple named Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios) who belong to an elite club of Brazil’s most privileged— oh, and they eat people! Not only do they consume the flesh of their fellow human beings, they truly embody the essence of capitalism by eating the poor. Otavio and Gilda accidentally run afoul of the club’s leader Borges (Pedro Domingues) after she discovers a sensitive secret of his, sending them down a dangerous path.
The comedy is dark and fierce. The horror is bright red, gushing, and wet. All the excess director-writer Guto Parente does employ serves the purposes of his mission to satirise the bourgeois class for its cannibalisation of the proletariat. Particularly this story works so well because of Brazil’s economy. Although the upper class may not literally be eating the lower classes, they’re damn sure doing the job on a figurative level.
In Brazil, there’s massive income inequality. A handful of the nation’s richest men hold more wealth than the poorest 50% of the population, and the top 20% of the wealthiest have 33 times the income share of the poorest 20%. Around 25% of the population (= 50 million citizens) lives below the poverty line. It’s estimated black Brazilians won’t make as much as white Brazilians until 2089, so racism and classism go hand in hand. Parente depicts the country as a brutal cannibal economy.
The opening scene shows Otavio playing cuckold to a younger man fucking his wife. Then, as things heat up, he kills the man, spraying blood all over himself an ecstatic Gilda. He ejaculates from the excitement. Most significant is the victim, who quickly winds up as dinner, is a black man. This is a recurring theme: all the victims are black. Not only do the bourgeois cannibals feed on the proletariat, they feed on a marginalised population of black Brazilians. While the rich characters worry about supposed high crime rates and insulate themselves behind tall gates, they’re the ones preying on those they believe responsible for such crime, just as it is in real life.
While Otavio’s impotence and cuckoldry might seem like an element of exploitation they actually hold significance. His being impotent is a larger symbol relating to the bourgeois as a class, in that, as the owners of the means of production, they really do nothing without the proletariat. Without the proletariat, the bourgeois are ‘impotent’— they cannot produce. The young man is one in a series who’ve worked service jobs for the husband-wife duo. Without him/them Otavio is unable to ‘produce’ (a.k.a cum). A twisted metaphor of economic exploitation.
Skewed morality in the bourgeois is a major theme. When Gilda stumbles onto Borges receiving anal sex from a male security guard it exposes strange insecurities. Borges – a cannibal – is worried about the rest of the elite discovering his closeted homosexuality, driving him to try and murder Gilda and Otavio to keep his secrets hidden. There’s darkly comic lining that speaks truth to power. Reminds Father Gore of how racists get more angry at being called racists than they do at racism itself. Capitalists are the same. Look at recently in America when corporate coffee tsar Howard Schultz and other rich men were incensed at the very idea of their millionaire/billionaire status being seen as anything less than total magnificence by us, the unwashed masses, instead of being upset by the shameful wealth gap growing across their country. Borges is one of those types whose mind is focused on all the aspects of his life other than the destructive ones.
“We, distinctive men devoted to the highest values…”
The hidden cannibal society amongst the elites reflects capitalism’s all-encompassing infection and how its ideology spreads throughout every institution in our society. Best exemplified by Jonas (José Maria Alves), an unemployed labourer. He goes for a job interview, seeking any work available to him, and because of that he’s far less critical than he might be usually. He’s actually walked into what amounts to a meat selection. He’s lead into the service of Otavio and Gilda with no idea of how he’ll be exploited. Similar to how capitalist industry lures in its workers with promises of fair wages/treatment only to exploit them whenever it’s financially beneficial.
The plot involving Jonas is an allegory of how the poor are continually forced into bad employment opportunities (i.e. more dangerous, unfair pay, etc) by a system already designed to work against them, to the point they’ll put themselves in increasingly compromising situations because it’s either die working to put food on the table or die from lack of food on the table. In the real world, those in dire financial straits often take exploitative or dangerous jobs because they’re the only ones available to them, and as a society we allow this to happen, condoning their treatment letting the flaws of a capitalist system to eat them alive. The proletariat are reduced to cuts of meat being judged for consumption. Jonas finds this out, symbolising the deep, scary corporeality of a capitalist cannibal economy.
In Brazil, classes are separated in many ways. A significant one is the literal divide of private gated communities. The poor usually only come into contact with the rich via domestic service jobs, from cooking and cleaning to the men who work for private security companies. All the more sad when these marginalised people are used for labour then chopped up for meat by the cannibal elite. The film’s rich characters use the poor in every way, whether for labour, meat, or even sex. In the opening scene the sexual element is evident, however, later there’s an unsettling scene where powerful men watch from a shadowy balcony as two black Brazilians are forced to fuck in front of a camera, bound by chains— a not so subtle image of slavery that helps to tie the story’s many excesses of capitalism together in a sharp, steel bow.
“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes”
One of the things capitalists fail to see is their own contribution to the problems societies face in terms of class struggle. In the film, these cannibal capitalists lament living in “a land of poors” and obsess about their “protagonism in society” as if it were a duty to which they’ve been fated by ancient prophecies, yet can’t for a minute begin to comprehend their own roles in creating such a divided, unequal society. The rich love to make themselves into victims, never putting themselves in the position of those without all their privilege and wealth and always wondering why the poor ‘refuse’ to see things from their perspective. What better way to challenge the status quo of capitalist fantasy than to have the rich play the parts of cannibals? Guto Parente does a fantastic job of skewering the powerful, wealthy men who keep a stranglehold on a society they claim to care about so deeply. Full-on satire at its most deliciously gruesome.
In the end, Jonas escapes the bourgeois cannibalistic cycle. He’s too smart for them to chew him up and consume him through labour, then dinner. He manages to make it out alive, albeit quite bloody. Jonas takes back the means of production from the hands of the capitalist class, because in the symbolism of The Cannibal Club‘s allegory violence is the means of production that keeps the cannibal economy running. His violent retaliation against Otavio and Gilda is confirmation of the only way those of us from the lower classes will ever take down the bourgeoisie: beat them at their own game.