Literature in this part of the world loved using cannibalism as a metaphor, despite the taboos. From Eucharistic worship to magical practice, in the West the cannibal image often meant something else, not just anthropophagy.

One of the symbolic values ​​that literature and cinema have attributed to cannibalism is the oppression of the other which is expressed, in the form of a metaphor, through its reduction to food. If it is a metaphor, cannibalism cannot have hunger as its premise and satiety as its purpose, at least not the physical one taken in a literal sense. The metamorphosis of the other into edible matter, in fact, translates a desire for annihilation, represents the outlet of a need for sexual and social abuse.

The cannibalistic metaphor that associates love with hate feeds the leitmotiv medieval heart eaten. We find this image in one of the short biographies of the troubadours, the ones they call themselves vidas and which, fruit of an essentially metaliterary invention, introduce the collections of medieval poems in the Occitan language.

Among others, the vida by Guilhem de Cabestanh tells the fatal ending of his extra-marital love affair. The poet loves a married woman and she indulges, insulting her husband. From the point of view of this literary tradition, the problem is not so much that the lady is a traitor, but that the spouse discovers the betrayal. Thus the scandal breaks out and revenge is engineered by the wounded husband, who is not content with killing his wife’s lover, but tears his heart out. What do you do with it? He offers it to her who, unaware, eats it. This is followed by the suicide of the woman, as disgusted as she is desperate. A simply tragic story, were it not that the punishment devised by the jealous husband allows the two lovers to bond for eternity: he loves her and loses his life for her, but she will remain the only holder of his heart (symbolically, therefore also post mortem, or post-digestion), thus fueling the process of transforming love into hate, then back into love.

Post-war literature and cinema have appropriated the cannibal image and its involved power to show and study their own monstrosity and the processes of oppression. From a social point of view, this translates into a disturbing and obscene scene of a very painful masterpiece by Curzio Malaparte.

In the novel Skin (1949), we read of Naples during the Allied occupation, devoured by those who saved it, by those who are only able to admire its charm without understanding its desolation. The Allies nourish themselves and consume the extraordinary features of a city that offers itself to its new paladins, ready to do so for the next ones as well, as for anyone else. Malaparte metaphorizes this process through extraordinary images.

We remember, one of all, the dinner between dignitaries in which the cooked body of a fish is served not from the sea (life), but from the Aquarium of Naples (showcase). The fish is in fact beautiful in an exceptional way, so much so that it resembles a child in the age of development, whose body is partially pulped by cooking but which has an expression of joy on the face. It is as if, flattered by being at the table of the grown-ups, the Neapolitan mermaid enjoyed the luxury of the frescoed ceilings and silverware. You will therefore constitute the main dish of that granguignolesco diplomatic banquet:

It was the first time I saw a cooked child, a boiled child: and I kept silent, gripped by a sacred fear. Everyone around the table was pale with horror. General Cork raised his eyes to the diners’ faces, and in a trembling voice exclaimed: “But you are not a fish! She’s a girl! ”“ No, ”I said,“ she’s a fish. ” “Are you sure it’s a fish, a real fish?” General Cork said, running his hand over his forehead wet with cold sweat. “And a fish,” I said, “is the famous Aquarius Mermaid.”
Curzio Malaparte, Skin, Adelphi, 2010 (5th edition), p. 223.

In Naples it is the poor who are devoured by the powerful who, by virtue of a salvific role, devour everything they find, even people, while the poor, as a sign of gratitude towards the liberator, allow themselves to be violated by sacrificing their own life, albeit in splendor and grace.

To deepen the social theme was Jan Švankmajer, to whom we owe a further extraordinary reprise of the cannibal motif in a surrealistic short film from 1992. With the help of animated plasticine and stop motion – but without resorting to dialogue -, Švankmajer shows several social classes and men who literally feed on each other (or the other). The work is developed in three segments, “Breakfast”, “Lunch” And “Dinner”, to stage the meal of the working class, the bourgeoisie and the elite. The idea that man must devour the other in order to survive appears as a cruel obviousness, but it is not just a question of exploitation between those who have so much and those who have nothing: the theme here is mutual annihilation, for the more low, and the oppression of the other for one’s own survival, in the case of those who are more well-off, even slightly.

Finally, we pass to our local binge at the revolting animated meal of the Czech director. Marco Ferreri closes the circle. In 1973 it was released in theaters The big binge, fairly well-known Franco-Italian film. Four friends, played by Ugo Tognazzi, Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret and Michel Piccoli (whose characters are delightfully namesake), joined by a woman, Andréa Ferréol, a lover of all four, lock themselves up in a villa, a sort of hortus conclusus in the center of Paris, where they will consume highly sought after food, alcohol and sexual relations with the aim of dying from it.

The film seems to mix the theme of brotherly love between the protagonists with the love of life. We are, however, a long way from a hymn to existence. Rather, it is a question of the triumph of its epiphenomena, that is, of the accessory elements of life, of vain vanities: this is suggested by Michel in a scene, which contextually also quotes the biblical maxim “Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas” (Ecclesiastes 1, 2 ; 12, 8).

In the villa, every day is devoted to demonstrating that the value is not in the structure (ideology, faith, work), but is hidden in what furnishes existence (food, sex and “joy, joy ”, as we hear repeatedly declared). Music is also almost completely lacking in this film, in which only one theme obsessively echoes (that of the soundtrack composed by Philippe Sarde), because music itself implies a form of commitment, a harbinger of too much structural senses and intellectual structures. deep to get back into the game.

Not epicurean, the days of the protagonists are the exhibition of ludus existential, that is, the idea that life is worth the game, the laugh, the joke, the binge, the thrill of a vintage car that starts and that you can go back and forth on the driveway of the villa. Ludus and luxury are two key words, enclosed in turn in two liminal scenes: the initial one and the final one.

At the beginning we have Philippe maniacally attached to the breasts of his old nurse. Philippe himself will eventually die in the arms of his new love, Andréa, a kind of rejuvenated stunt double for his nurse. Just as the breast of his nurse accompanies him to life, Andréa’s breast directs him to death: a very sweet jelly in the form of two large breasts will give the final blow to Philippe, who suffers from diabetes.

The cannibalistic metaphor, here almost completely sublimated, reaches its extreme synthesis. We return to the starting point, breastfeeding. Feeding on the other means self-preservation for life and death.

Valeria Russo

Image: Anthropophagy, Tarsila do Amaral, Brazil, 1929.

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