I JUST SAW… We Are What We Are (Mexico, 2010)

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, (aka SOMOS LO QUE HAY), from left: Paulina Gaitan, Francisco Barreiro, 2010. ©IFC Films

Somos lo Que Hay is the original title of this 2010 Mexican movie, translated to English as We Are What We Are and to Italian as Siamo cio che mangiamo – “we are what we eat”.

We Are What We Are 1I guess for once the Italian translation makes sense, although not fully proper, because this horror/drama tells the story of a family of cannibals who live in poverty and struggle. Their tough economic conditions get worse when the dad dies, leaving his wife and three children (Alfredo, Julian and Sabina) dealing with starvation and in tireless search of something to latch on – described by the characters as ‘the ritual’.

Said ritual consists of hunting a human prey, dismembering the body and feeding upon it. We then follow this unconventional family trying to fulfil their desire, all the while coping with grief and moaning their loss.

Writer and director Jorge Michel Grau depicts the whole story with respectful subtlety, making his film very different from a gore fest: the family’s struggles and difficulties are, in fact, the main focus of this Mexican gem.

We Are What We Are 2The mother is trying to replace her husband’s duties in the household, afraid as she is of losing grip on her loved ones. Alfredo, the oldest son, is coming to terms with the fact that he might not be capable of helping his family, because he’s gay and, thus, not fully accepted by his family and considered an outcast of society. His sister Sabina is exploring her sexuality, between the desire of finding answers in the outside world and the temptation of having an intercourse with Julian. On his part, the youngest kid wants to utilise the death of his father as an excuse to behave as viciously as he can.

These storylines blend together under the shelter of Mexican society or, I’d better say, the most miserable part of it, filled with corrupted cops, illegal prostitution, mobs and, above all, egoism.

I’m no expert about Mexican culture nor society, but the depiction of them in We Are What We Are is truly powerful and captivating: the universe set up by the movie in only 90 minutes is enthralling and helps at creating a bond between audience and characters.

We Are What We Are 3The movie isn’t scary in the typical Hollywood way, albeit quite disturbing in a deeply depressing way. The story written by Michel Grau is very much a downer, which leaves little space for hope and betterment.

Yet, the pace is rather calm but never slow nor boring – as though it was trying to keep up with the subtlety surrounding the characters. The soundtrack, however, is able to enhance respectively tension and sorrow in the most intense scenes of the film, becoming even chilling at times.

If I have to pinpoint some problems with the movie, I’d say that there’s never a peak in tension or horror: look and feel are quite steady, which unfortunately prevents the ending from being fully climactic and potent – and, for once, my girlfriend, who I watched the film with, agrees with me. Hurray!

Also, the cinematography is rather dull apart from a few shots; luckily, camera-work and locations make up for that, being very appropriate and truly fantastic.

Yet, there is an aspect of the movie I was very pleased with but unsure about nonetheless. Allow me to explain: in my opinion, the ritual is a sort of metaphor for an improvement the family is looking for. Multiple times throughout the film they have the upper hand on their victims, but somewhat they manage to fuck up in the attempt of finding a better match for the ritual.

I sincerely liked this symbolism, but, as I said, I’ve got no idea if my interpretation is the correct one – or even if there is a single way to interpret the meaning of We Are What We Are, for that matter.

Overall, I pretty much love this film and I think of it as one of the best South American movies in the last few years. Let me know if you’ve seen the movie and have a different way to explain its meaning, please. Adios!

We Are What We Are      8.5/10