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Movie review: 'We Are What We Are'

The film is an unexpectedly rich exploration of family bonds, blood rituals and the oftentimes zombie-like desire to assume the roles proscribed to each of us.

February 25, 2011|By Mark Olsen

A poor family in Mexico City, having lost its patriarch, scrambles to maintain its way of life.

While one son struggles to live up to the expectations and needs of the family, his brother seems unsure how to fit into the new dynamic. Their sister plays a more supportive but no less vital role, while the mother alternates between anger and grief. That they are desperate to continue their lifestyle as urban cannibals seems somehow beside the point.

The debut feature from Mexican writer-director Jorge Michel Grau, "We Are What We Are" is an unexpectedly rich exploration of family bonds, blood rituals and the oftentimes zombie-like desire to assume the roles proscribed to each of us, played out with a sharp undertow of political allegory and darkly comic sensibility.

The film places a stark frame around the familiar panic and cruel anxiety of striving to get to what we each want and need day after day, whether it's money, emotional validation — or how to dispose of the unconscious hooker in the trunk.

What is most shocking, most unsettling, about Grau's film is the way he emphasizes the family drama on its own terms, often leaving the genre trappings of his story floating at the edges. For much of its running, the film resembles something like the exotic, artful miserablism of "Biutiful" much more than a flesh-eating flick like "Dawn of the Dead." Yet the gruesome details of what is at hand are never far from a viewer's mind.


"We Are What We Are." No MPAA rating. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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