Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

CannibalHolocaust

I’ll never forget the first time I watched this film.

At the alarmingly young age of just 13 years old, I was exploring the more lurid areas of cinema. I had seen the hysteria and infamy surrounding this film: the list of countries that had banned it, the various warnings such as ‘If in doubt, do not watch this film’, which of course was an invitation rather than a deterrence.

Owing to my age, I would have been hard pressed to walk in to a shop and buy a film titled ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, and I didn’t want to waste my time watching a version that had been slaughtered by the BBFC, so I broke the law and found it on the now extinct LimeWire. I’d never downloaded anything before, I was sure it wouldn’t work somehow.

However, when the download finished, I opened the file and was presented with the opening scene, a shot of the vast, seemingly perpetual Amazon rainforest accompanied by Riz Ortolani’s beautiful score. The realisation that I was now able to watch this film of unprecedented horror was so terrifying that I instantly closed Windows Media Player in a wave of fright. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to watch it; it was a joyfully intense experience. I never knew what ghastliness was around the corner, only sheer masochistic curiosity kept me watching it, this curious thrill being the essence of exploitation cinema. In order to clear my name, I must add that I have since bought a fully uncut version on the Internet!

‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is the father of the ‘found footage’ genre. The film follows Harold Monroe, a professor of Anthropology at a New York university who endeavours to discover what has happened to a young group of documentary makers who ventured into an area known as ‘The Green Inferno’ in South America. Eventually, he finds their reels and takes them back to New York, witnessing their fate in a projection room. According to director Ruggero Deodato, the film serves as a diatribe against the sensational violent nature of the media, which is quite obviously dubious and hypocritical considering the exploitative nature of the film.

It is a very powerful piece of filmmaking; it leaves a lasting impression on you. The film batters you with its biting visceral force, which is both visual and aural. In many respects, this film has high production values for an exploitation film. For example, Riz Ortolani’s score features both beautiful acoustic tracks and relentless aural assaults; it works with the strong visuals to wear you down until you’re imploring for it to stop.

Its violence is jarringly realistic, and on several notorious occasions, completely real. I’m somewhat torn on the issue of animal slaughter; all animals killed in the film were reportedly eaten afterwards, and the animals were killed humanely, apart from the coatimundi, whose fate is the hardest to watch. I feel ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is unfairly maligned; look at ‘Apocalypse Now’, the brutal slaying of the water buffalo is ignored because of the massively high esteem it’s held in. If it was a low-budget exploitation film it would have probably been steeped in criticism.

The acting is tolerable, if slightly toe-curling in places, however generally it’s good enough for it not to detract from how horribly effective the film is.

77%

Life is Beautiful (1997)

Life is Beautiful

It’s ultimately a rather exploitative tear-jerker

I entered ‘Life Is Beautiful’ not really knowing what to expect; I certainly didn’t anticipate a part slapstick comedy. The film charts Guido’s (Roberto Benigni) romantic pursuit of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), their married life, the birth of their son, and finally their removal from Italy into an extermination camp by the Nazis. The initial phase of the story is quite pleasant and sometimes funny, it has numerous running gags all concerning Guido, most of which he uses spontaneously to impress and bemuse his love interest Dora.

Guido is an affable, happy-go-lucky character, his spontaneous charm works well overall, especially in a scene where he manipulates an important guest’s choice of dinner and in another where he comically translates a rather ominous looking Nazi. However, he can become exhausting, and he also becomes somewhat brash considering his surroundings in the latter half of the film.

This brings me on to the depiction of the Holocaust. Guido’s escapades within the camp are completely implausible and rather stupid, he sneaks around being his effervescent self whilst it is clear that in reality he would’ve been shot on sight almost immediately. The film doesn’t offer hope because of its sheer implausibility, all it achieves really is trivialising the Holocaust. This film is rather like the term ‘Ethnic Cleansing’, it doesn’t work because it’s impossible and perhaps insulting to try and euphemise genocide.

I’m not sure who the film’s target audience is. Is it a children’s film? That is one of the few ways I could perhaps see it working, as a method of introducing a young mind to the holocaust. But there is a problem with this, too, the film doesn’t even begin to offer an insight into the haunting evil of the holocaust. Instead, the audience gets a completely maudlin tale of ‘spirit’ and ‘hope’ that, with very little veracity, exploits one of humanity’s greatest evils for the sake of saccharine pathos.

Judging from others’ opinions, I think this film will bode well with the overly sentimental who enjoy crying and disregard credibility.

58%