Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Nate Hood's On Further Review take on Aamis (2019) Tribeca 2019

It began with a goat, a young kid purchased, butchered, cooked, and eaten by a self-proclaimed “Meat Club” at a nearby university. Disgusted with the quality of processed meats, these students sought only the finest and freshest of fleshes upon which to feast. On this occasion, the club had a new member, a vegetarian named Sumon (Arghadeep Barua) who quickly found himself taken with the stuff, gorging himself to glutted indigestion. Niri (Lima Das), a nearby pediatrician, was summoned by his friends to help, and she walked away with a bizarre doctor’s fee—Sumon’s newfound curiosity for strange, exotic meats. Soon the two were meeting clandestinely while her husband was out of town, sampling freshly killed delicacies. First came wild rabbits captured in a tea garden. Then freshly caught fish. Then came bats, snakes, snails, and more, all the while growing more and more tired of the starches, fruits, and vegetables they’d known their whole lives. After finally exhausting their community’s supply of unusual beasties, they turned to the only taboo flesh left: each other.

Care for a fried calf cutlet? Or how about duck eggs with minced garlic and thigh meat? Such are the depraved yet mouth-watering dishes populating Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis, a tonally confused mishmash of genres, emotions, and gore. “Aamis” is itself the word for “ravening” in the Assamese dialect from northeastern India in which the film is shot, and it’s a succinct summation of the film’s central theme, the gradual whittling away of sense and sanity in the service of satiating bestial instincts. For the first half of the film, the soft cinematography, breezy pacing, and gentle soundtrack of strings and piano leads us to believe we’re watching a romantic melodrama centering around food; think an Indian take on Chocolat (2000) or the gangster subplot from Tampopo (1985). But after a sequence at the middle where Sumon has a hallucinatory nightmare about Niri, the film jumps the rails straight into cannibalism, revealing the couple’s sharing of food was less innocent courtship ritual than covert indulging of perversions like the car crash fetishists in David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996).

Alas, the film can’t commit to its subversity, keeping the sexual connotations at arm’s length, relegating Sumon and Nori’s passions to chaste, sexless eccentricity, retaining the airy beats of a romcom with none of the detachment that could make it ironically disturbing. Cannibalism shouldn’t be this bland.

Rating: 5/10

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