Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

Caniba is a disturbingly close, yet distant portrait of the famous Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa.


Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

France, 2017 90 minutes

Throughout history, cannibalism has been the source of more fictitious stories than fact-based accounts. So it’s no wonder that it has been the subject of many a fiction film, especially within the horror genre–from the “video nasty” Cannibal Holocaust and the psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs to 2016’s Cannes-shocker Raw.

When people have eaten their own species in real life, it has rarely been to satisfy their hunger. Usually cannibalism has been a ceremonial, magic-religious act with the aim to achieve some of the traits of the person being consumed, such as strength or courage, or to make contact with the gods.

Therefore, it seems rather fitting that Caniba in its opening sequence sites a couple of well-known verses from the Bible, John 6:53 and 6:56, where Jesus says to the Jews: ”Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” and ”Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”

Killed and Ate a Fellow Student

At its very beginning the film presents an extensive text with information about the crime that would make Japanese Issei Sagawa famous and the circumstances that led to him being a free man only a few years later.

In 1981, while he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, Sagawa invited his 25-year-old fellow student Renée Hartevelt home to his apartment to read poetry. However, his plan was to kill and then eat the woman, whom he desired. A plan he went through with, as well as raping her dead body before he started disembodying it.

«In its lack of a conventional narrative, Caniba is close and distant at the same time.»

After he was observed whilst trying to get rid of parts of her body in a public park, the police soon got hold of Sagawa who immediately admitted to the murder. In his apartment, the investigators not only found more body parts in the refrigerator, but also the remains of a meal containing the victim’s meat.

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