Director – Patricion Plaza – 2022 – Argentina, Mexico, Columbia – France 16+ – 21m
When a travelling monk falls prey to a fever, the folk remedy administered by an old woman causes him to experience bizarre hallucinations – from the 2023 Annecy International Animation Festival in the Official Competition section
(Warning: not suitable for work or for those of a sensitive disposition. Potentially offensive to religious i.e. Christian viewers. Also, spoilers.)
In a prologue, a young girl races through a field of crops but runs into a monk, who squishes the mushrooms she’s carrying in her bag with his foot, feels her face and checks out her teeth before she flees.
Some time later (or perhaps some time earlier), the profusely sweating monk falls off on his donkey beside his walking guide and wakes in a nearby hovel, or it might be a church, tended by an old woman muttering unintelligible rituals as she attempts to heal him. The perpendicular bars of the roof’s sole window form a makeshift cross on which hangs a Christ figure, but when mushrooms resembling the ones trampled at the start are placed in the initially reluctant monk’s mouth, glowing sprites exit his body and enter the Christ figure, which assumes a monstrous aspect and attacks him.
He escapes to a circular clearing where his giant four-legged Christ beast of a pursuer devours him. Inside the belly of the beast, the monk must fight off undead corpses in a river or red bile before passing through an underground cave river and an ossuary. The dark Christ beast presents him with a black breast and nipple to suckle, then discards him and penetrates his sphincter.
He awakes back in the room, retching, and goes out to the old woman, sitting outside facing away from him (much like the corpse at the end of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) who topples forward at this touch. The young girl watches him depart and comes over to see mushrooms growing around the old woman’s corpse.
Rendered in an arresting 2D drawn animation style and mostly in muted, dark, colour shades to convey the building interior and the side of the Christ-monster, this is pretty harrowing stuff mixing up religious and monstrous imagery. There’s a degree of ambiguity: what is the monk up to pursuing and catching the child – is he a child molester? a sex trafficker? What is the sickness to which he succumbs? Who is the old woman whose ritualistic mutterings echo the Latin of Catholic ritual? What is the sprite that leaves his body? (There are several, but we only see one come out of him.) Is the Christ apparition a strange creature or a lifeless representation possessed by the sprites?
If these questions are never really addressed, the piece nevertheless envelops you like a distressing dream and carries you along under the spell of its own momentum, playing out like a horror conundrum as it hurtles towards its ambiguous conclusion. For religious (i.e. Christian) viewers, taking a figure of Christ (it seems safe to assume this is a representation of Christ of the sort often found in churches rather than the historical, living, earthly Christ or the post-resurrection, risen Christ) and then turning it into a demonic monster is likely to prove deeply problematic, to say the least. On the other hand, it may stand as a highly effective image for wrongs perpetrated on indigenous cultures in the name of (the Christian) religion. This deeply unsettling, transgressive and enigmatic work cries out to be seen.
Flesh Of God plays in the 2023 Annecy International Animation Festival which is taking place from Sunday 11th to Saturday 17th June in the Official Competition section.
Trailer (which doesn’t show the Christ-monster in any form recognisable as such if you’ve not yet seen the film):
Annecy International Animation Festival 2023.