Festival Coverage Reviews

[CSAFF 2019]: AAMIS and The Unlikely Eroticism of the Flesh

Cody takes on the Chicago South Asian Film Festival.

Meat isn’t the problem, gluttony is.” That’s the thesis of Bhaskar Hazarika’s bold and unconventional feast of a feature, Aamis—or Ravening—which masterfully ruptures the relationship between pleasure and taboo, consumption and cannibalism.

Nirmali (Lima Das) is a pediatrician who is bored of her often absent husband and the unchanging day-to-day routine that has become her life. That is, until she meets Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah), a young PhD student who seeks out Nirmali’s help after his vegetarian roommate becomes nauseous from eating meat. Nirmali discovers that Sumon studies unusual eating habits in northeast India, specifically fresh and unprocessed meat, and agrees to taste a meal of his as payment.

What ensues is an affair of taste buds of sorts as Nirmali becomes enamored with the weird and wonderful dishes Sumon prepares for her. From comparatively traditional meats such as goat and fish, to those that are a little bit more outside the box such as bugs and bats, all of them are prepared the same way in mouthwatering, intricate displays.

This relationship is equally beneficial at first: Sumon gets to continue his research, while Nirmali gets a mostly innocent distraction from her home life. The couple spends more and more time with one another, expanding their palettes slowly but with an underlying obsession.

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Aamis (2019) – Wishberry Films

Aamis takes its time, which can be off-putting at first for seasoned horror fans expecting a rapid cannibalistic frenzy rather than a slow burn. But the majority of Aamis doubles down on its central characters and their forbidden, socially taboo relationship to one another—and when things eventually take a turn, the stakes become that much higher.

At some point, Nirmali and Sumon’s hunger becomes all-consuming and they want more. But what do you eat when you’ve eaten every meat there is left to try? In an act of desire and curiosity, Sumon prepares a piece of his own thigh meat and serves it to Nirmali. At first, she is disgusted—but she quickly learns that all other meats pale in comparison to the real thing.

Once Aamis hits this breaking point, it becomes exponentially hard to watch. But what’s fascinating is how much of that is due to the psychological implications rather than straight up gore and violence. Sure, there are visuals of flesh being cut off and set aside that are sure to make you queasy—but it’s presented as far more medical than gnarly. The sick operations are always done in a lab, and they are cooked and prepared just as nicely as any other meat.

In Aamis, what’s most unsettling is not the act of cannibalism itself, but the eroticism attached to it—and how a horrific obsession of flesh may not be so different from our own primal urges.

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Aamis (2019) – Wishberry Films

Nirmali can try to throw up the flesh and expunge it from her own, but she will never be able to wash out the taste in her mouth. She becomes horrified by the realization that, deep down, she loves it. One can make the argument that cannibalism is tied to eroticism or pleasure because of its emphasis on consumption. People can feel pleasure in various forms from the consumption of flesh, whether it be directly sexual or abstractly sexual (like a really good meal you can’t stop thinking about).

Bodies are both gross and pleasurable, and at its heart, sexual desire will come back to flesh in some form. Aamis champions that ideology and runs with it to a far more disturbing place, but it’s one you can’t look away from. The real problem is gluttony, not the flesh itself. The question of how much of yourself you can give to someone you love, or vice versa, becomes much more urgent when it’s literal. Consumption as love is an apt metaphor, regardless of how stomach-churning its presentation may be.

Aamis eradicates any barrier between pleasure and taboo without hesitation—and it sees them as deeply related, if not the same. It’s a challenging thesis to sit with, especially given its extremities, but it’s not one without real meat on its bones.

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