The debut feature of young French writer/director Delphine Gleize, Carnages is hard to classify. Imagine a European arthouse variation on Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia and you'll have some idea of what to expect from this bizarre tale of everyday chance and coincidence. Drawing on a cast of French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian actors, it explores how the lives of various families and couples are positively affected by the slaughter of a giant Andalusian bull which has gored a young matador.
Indeed this dead bull, whose body parts are dispersed around Europe, turns out to be a crucial figure in the movie. The beast's eyes are sent to an adulterous scientist (Jacques Gamblin) whose wife (Lio) is expecting quintuplets. One of its bones is purchased in a supermarket as a treat for the pet pooch of an epileptic five-year-old girl Winnie (Raphaëlle Molinier), whilst the horns end up with a reclusive taxidermist and his elderly mother.
A Spanish woman (Ángela Molina), whose daughter happens to be Winnie's teacher, eats a speciality dish of beef in rioja, and is herself destined to become an organ donor. Then there's struggling actress Carlotta (Chiara Mastroanni) and her suicidal partner (Clovis Cornillac) who find themselves invited back home by Winnie's parents following an accident with a trolley in a car park. It happens...
It's not just a slain animal, however, that connects these disparate individuals. Gleize creates associations between storylines through use of a specific colour palette, elegant compositions, and visual motifs. There are some puzzling images too, not least the sight of a choir composed of burns victims.
The pile-up of coincidences, revelations, and moments of epiphany that brings this all to conclusion is far from persuasive, though. Carnages is unevenly weighted with more cerebral than emotional substance, and the characters are little more than devices through which the filmmaker seeks to explore philosophical ideas. Running at over two hours long, it's also over-indulgent. In all, watching this film is like chewing on an overcooked steak and just as hard to swallow.
In French, Spanish, and Italian with English subtitles.