AKA Vlees (Original title)
Available on Amazon DVD (Content warning)
Disconnected scenes, little sense of a narrative, and even less dialogue – these are often signs that a foreign language thriller is not going to offer much in the way of a concrete storyline. I’ve never been one to steer away from subtitles, in fact it’s often a way to find a lot of interesting releases. But like any drama there are some things that work and others that just raise eyebrows. A few images will be conjured up as I describe this Dutch release from the title alone. This is the story of a seedy butcher and his young shop assistant, and what goes on after hours. Or during them. There’s more than just hanging carcasses behind that meat locker door. However this mixture of dream like images and police investigation tangents isn’t going to be as clear cut about what is happening, or why.
A few brief key visuals are introduced at the start, most of which return later whether there is any kind of eureka moment or not. Roxy submerges herself in a bath tub. Inspector Mann wakes up early anticipating his alarm clock. A butcher opens his premises for the start of a business day. The two main threads here are the goings on at the meat shop, and the domestic drama being experienced by the detective. How much of this is relevant to the main story of a murder and if there’s any connecting tissue varies as things unravel.
For a drama this has a lot of disconcerting sound design. People’s lips seem to be overly loud as they eat, drink and even talk. It might seem like an odd thing to pick up on, but someone really went overboard on the Foley work. The sense of unease this creates is soon complimented by the grimy hobbies of the characters involved. The noises of the butcher’s daily work are no exception as pieces of flesh are taken apart on the chopping block, and his own meaty appendages slap against his lover in the dark of the store room.
The double entendre hinted at by the title doesn’t take too long to rear its head, and there are soon plenty of overt sex scenes involved. Though the butcher is having an affair with what seems to be the owner’s girlfriend, she doesn’t seem shy about getting her kicks with either of them in the cold storage. The butcher himself seems put off by the way she’s jumping from one guy to the next, but soon he starts to push his attention on the young Roxy as she helps wrap the produce. He’s a lecherous cliché right out of the gate, pressing his seedy advances at every opportunity with plenty of dirty talk behind the counter.
His assistant however isn’t all she seems, filming everything the others get up to with an obsessive drive. The night vision footage she compiles (regardless of daylight) is full of nudity and animal parts, though her motivations are never really clear. How much if this is known to the others is also vague. Perhaps it’s all something to do with her boyfriend Mo who may be an activist against slaughter houses, but even this idea isn’t put to the fore once things start to get messy. The narrative is never particularly clear as it jumps from one character to the next.
The inspector meanwhile is having a few different domestic problems. He gets robbed in the subway and sits staring into his beer. His elderly mother is displeased with his progress in life, and he seems to have a big problem with his partner; though like a lot of things here the reasons are not obvious. He’s really cold about the whole thing while she begs him for answers that never come. It’s hinted at that his mental state is deteriorating , but it’s not explicit. Unlike the amount of skin on show.
These two paths collide after there’s a death reported at the shop premises, and Roxy is the main suspect since everyone else left a party they were attending earlier. It’s clear that the detective and the butcher are being played by the same person which suggests a radical fork in the road is coming. However it’s all pretty messy to say the least, even when they start to look exactly like one another. There are random suicides and apparent rape scenes that don’t seem linked to the overarching story, while a sequence showing what seems like the inspector tripping out is never explained. Roxy’s own visions of male nudity blurring into the steaks for sale is also pretty obtuse. Perhaps there are some kind of big symbolic ideas being thrown around that I’m missing. The main surface level parallels are of course obvious but they don’t build to a solid conclusion. Maybe other viewers will get more from this, but it’s all just too unsatisfying for a serious recommendation.