Skin Flicks at Cannes: What's Up With All the Cannibal Movies?

Raw Slack Bay Split - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

From Steven Spielberg to French art house titles, flesh-eating is all the rage on the Croisette, and insiders say it has something to do with rising global inequality: "The rich are eating the poor more and more."

It's been called the ultimate taboo. And this year, the subject of cannibalism has proved irresistible for directors at Cannes.

No fewer than five films screening at the festival feature cannibal themes, including Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon and Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay, both of which are in competition. There’s also Julia Ducournau’s Raw, playing in Critics’ Week, and Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan, which screens in the Midnight section.

With The BFG, Steven Spielberg didn’t go nearly as far as Roald Dahl’s classic book, which has the giants eating kids. Still, there was one scene — a dream sequence — in which Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is swallowed whole by Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement). The rest of the flesh-eating in the film, which screened out of competition, is implied.

But why are so many filmmakers sinking their teeth into the cannibalism concept this year? 3B Productions’ Jean Brehat, who produced Slack Bay, says cannibalism reflects the reality of the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, thanks to hyper-capitalism and a culture of consumption.

"I think it’s a metaphor for the social struggles," says Brehat. "It’s obvious to anyone that we live in a world where the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Even if it’s unconscious, it’s a reflection of the world we live in. The rich are eating the poor more and more."

Petit Film's Jean des Forets, who produced Raw, echoes that sentiment. "I think you could make some sort of sociopolitical reading of this trend," he says. "Obviously cannibalism has a very strong symbolic value linked to people getting rich while others are getting poorer."

Perhaps it’s fitting that these cannibal films should unspool in Cannes, which has become the epicenter of excess.

“It’s ridiculous. Everyone with a brain should hate Cannes. Not for the movies, but for the show of wealth,” says Brehat, referring to the yachts and the corporatization of the red carpet. “But this is where everyone comes to sell their next film.”