I don’t identify Meat as subtitled, even though it is a foreign (Russian) film, because there is no dialogue, and hence no subtitles. (I did notice there is a version of this film on Youtube with subtitles for the credits and one or two places in the movie where there is text, like a sign on a door. The version I watched, though, has no subtitles at all.)

Though this short film was made within the last few years, it’s shot in such a way as to make it appear otherwise. It is in black and white, and takes place in a downscale apartment building setting that looks primitive enough to be from a few decades ago. The atmospherics of the film are somber, matching its content.

A woman and a boy are in the apartment. A man enters and sets a package of meat down on the table. The woman shoos the boy away.

At first I didn’t pick up on what was going on. No one speaks, no one smiles, they mostly don’t look at each other, and there’s no significant emotion of any kind manifested. It just seems like the depiction of maybe an unhappy marriage, with a weary, disgruntled husband coming home from a hard day’s unfulfilling work to a weary disgruntled wife.

But then they repair to the adjoining room for sex (with the curious boy hiding under the bed), and I gathered that it was some kind of informal barter-based prostitution arrangement. Presumably the woman is a struggling single mother who accepts “help,” like the large hunk of meat, from one or more local men in exchange for her favors. “I’m only doing what I have to do to keep food on the table” being a more literal defense than usual in this case.

Because there is no dialogue, you have to watch closely and infer all you can from behavior and body language and facial expressions and such to see how the three people in the apartment are interpreting and responding to all that is happening.

The man makes some halting, awkward efforts to interact with the boy. One can infer he experiences some discomfort or embarrassment in front of the boy, but he doesn’t act in a hostile or unkind way toward him.

The mother is a bit more annoyed and harsh in her manner toward the boy—on the surface—but then breaks down in sobs as they grind the meat together after the man leaves.

The boy is somewhat more of a blank slate, just taking it all in. He doesn’t seem particularly angry or judgmental about what he’s seen, nor is he titillated in a Peeping Tom sort of way. It’s more that he’s aware—as much from how the other two are responding as anything—that something decidedly shameful to all concerned is going on, but something he lacks any deeper understanding of.

Meat is kind of interesting, and it packs an emotional punch, but I wouldn’t say it connected with me on all that deep a level.

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