Synopsis: A young woman named Roxy takes a job at a butcher shop. Constantly harassed by the shops owner and butcher, she soon becomes entwined in a sexual relationship with him. When he mysteriously ends up dead, she becomes the subject of a police investigation, headed by an inspector who bears a striking resemblance to the victim.
From the early silent era to today, Europe has always been at the forefront of auteur film. This geographical location continues to produce cinematic efforts that challenge our preconceptions. As time marches on, we’re shown new ways of what can be done with the genre as an art form. The Dutch directing pair of Maartje Seyferth and Victor Nieuwennhuijs has left their indelible mark in this field with their 2010 release, Meat (aka Vlees.) A stylistic crime thriller that manages to capture the atmosphere of films such as Calvaire (2004), with the disjointed storytelling and intriguing mystery of Giuseppe Tornatore’s A Pure Formality (1994). To put it in simple terms, Meat is a dish that you’ll want sit down and consume more than once.
If one were to properly describe this film, the phrase ‘beauty found within the confines of perversion’ is the first thing that comes to mind. However, that’s only telling a fraction of the story; Meat is engulfed with a macabre atmosphere, almost completely devoid of a soundtrack–ensuring the imagery and mood of every single passing moment isn’t lost on the viewer. It’s a bleak look at the droning pace of existence, the objectification of human beings, and the vile nature sexual obsession. Much of this is established and perfectly displayed at the films primary setting, a butcher shop.
More than just a location, the shop takes on a life of its own, and evolves into a self-contained world. In this film, human beings are denigrated to the lowest possible form. Humanity is represented as nothing more than slabs of flesh to be utilized for personal use. It takes things a step further to display the monotony of day-to-day life as somewhat resembling an assembly line, and exposes our animalistic nature in doing so. So much artistic depth is utilized within the shop itself, and it’s the perfect example of how so much can be brought out of a single solitary setting.
In one sequence that seems to illustrate the shop as a factory of human indignity, a patron comes in to make a purchase, wearing garb resembling a concentration camp uniform. Anyone can arrive at his or her own conclusions with this scene. It appears to driving the point home of slaughter existing on a universal level, with the butcher shop almost being a factory of death—in a sense, a slaughterhouse. In another dream sequence, we get the viewing of customers approaching a glass counter, stark naked. As if this this film addresses that the carcasses picked out for consumption are no different from the people who devour them.
Setting and atmosphere aside—it’s the human dynamic of this film that pushes it into distinction as a memorable work. The relationship between the butcher and Roxy is one of manipulation, abuse, and compliance. It’s an interesting look at sexual domination, and even contains a subtle form of voyeurism. Roxy films their exploits, as well as her own performed away from the shop, which becomes a film within a film. It contrasts heavily with the rest of the narrative, and sets up two opposing viewpoints—giving us the perspective of both people involved. Meat delves deep into the polar opposites of personalities—and exposes them much like the different sides of a coin.
It’s all of these minimalistic qualities that help create something on a grandiose scale. This is a mystery that fuses erotica, futility, and deviation into a vehicle that surpasses normal expectations with other genre entries. It’s bleak, beautiful, and not something you’ll soon forget after watching.