BIFF Film Review: Vegetarian Cannibal


   Films looking to achieve Awards' season success, so called "Oscar bait" movies, usually stick to familiar terrain secure in the knowledge that certain topics and tropes attract votes in big numbers. Movies about the holocaust always perform well according to the stereotype (Life Is Beautiful, Schindler's List, etc) as do other weighty "issue" pictures: Big budget films stating "racism is bad" get nominations from the Academy time and again (The Colour Purple, The Help, Crash). So, if this is the case, what exactly were Croatia thinking when they selected Vegetarian Cannibal as their official entry at the 2013 Oscars?

   Branko Schmidt's film is a character study focused in on a lead who, to say the least, is damaged. Not in a Denzel Washington-esque redeemable fashion, however, but in a psychopathic, violent, leery, egotistical, brash, disgusting, filthy manner. It's not a big risk to state that Danko Babić (Rene Bitorajac) may well be the most unpalatable "protagonist" to grace the big screen this year.

   Babic, a repellent, brooding gynaecologist, is a doctor who seems to have little care about anything but his own interests, self advancement and the scadenfreude that comes with humiliating and upsetting others. Not too long into Vegetarian Cannibal, the doctor gleans revenge on a patient who would like a pregnancy scan a small while after scheduled procedural time; falsely hinting that a miscarriage may have occurred, the doctor leaves his understandably terrified patient with her fears as he slides away pleased with the misery he has caused. This sets the immoral tone for a feature which quickly becomes a pitch black comedy (in the classic sense of the word), satirising what it means to be a success in contemporary society and how much humanity has to be sacrificed to achieve this. It's a grubby feature but one which hits home with lots of truths about the dark nature of our souls; its gripping, darkly amusing, twisted and, occasionally, cruelly insightful.

   It would also be remiss to not point out just how brutal this feature is (to the degree a disclaimer greets us at the end of the film assuring us that no animals were harmed in filming). For those with a weak stomach, Vegetarian Cannibal may very not be for you, featuring, as it does, graphic scenes of abortions and dog fights. When Hollywood attempts to address queasy subject, for example in Requiem for a Dream, for the most part major studios attempt to gloss over the bleakness of the matter by giving a cartoon-like veneer which, in some ways, is rather offensive. Not so, Vegetarian Cannibal - a feature whose brash hedonism is bluntly, and uncompromisingly, displayed on screen, giving the audience no method of escape. The scenes are used to re-enforce just how little Babic cares about lives other than his own; he watches one dog fight in which a combatant is rendered a gelatinous mound as if all it's bones have been removed. The heap flops into a shapeless mess, life having been brutally removed from it's malleable carcass. Babic is apathetic.

   Throughout Vegetarian Cannibal we see a lead who will stoop as low as is humanly possible so as to further their own career. Whether this comes through covering up fatal negligence, committing late term abortions or even misleadingly convincing women they've miscarried so as to abort a fetus as a favour for a male colleague, there is no low that Babic won't go to; often gleefully. It's a sick indictment of a culture which puts self-advancement above all else and, in this respect, the often squeamish feature is a real success.

   So, in short, Vegetarian Cannibal won't win any Oscars based on the current standards of middle-brow safety. The only way it would stand a chance is if the awards were redrafted to recognize innovation, originality and excellence. It's nominated for the top prize at Bradford International Film Festival and, out of the features I've seen so far, is the front-runner for the award.

* This film was screening as part of Bradford International Film Festival
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4 comments

  1. Great review Kieron on what seems to be an interesting film! Well done! :-)

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    1. Thank you! "Interesting" is certainly the right word!

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  2. I previewed this film for Raindance last October. I loathed it, but I still tell people to watch it, because it just so gets to you – which is, I think, what a film should do!

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    Replies
    1. I can completely see why you loathed it... but I found myself almost enjoying it despite myself!
      I thought, reading the preview, I too would loathe it but, alas, I found it rather smart (albeit gruesome)

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