I wasn’t sure how to approach the write-up for this one as it’s not a film that can be easily expressed through a simple blog post. I decided to dispense with the usual ‘Film Review’ tag and simply let the title sit there alone. This is not a film that plays well with others.
To be honest, it’s debatable whether it’s actually a film at all. It certainly isn’t a film in the traditional sense of the word; it’s a sort of part film, part documentary and continually jumps between the two during its 22 minute run time. The film is a snapshot of the realities of the workings of a French abattoir and it does absolutely nothing to protect the viewer from some of the horrific scenes that play out within. There is no cutting away to spare our sensitive little eyes; we see the grim reality of how animals were (still are?) slaughtered for their meat, hides and whatever else was salvageable.
Heads are cut off, skins are, erm, skinned, and entrails are removed. The instruments used to put the animals out of their misery (in theory) are brutal and seeing a decapitated calf continue to writhe around on the floor is something that is enough to turn even the most iron of stomachs. It goes without saying, then, that Blood of the Beasts is not an easy watch. However, it’s made all the more shocking by director George Franju’s direction, cutting between the horrendous events inside the abattoir to the peaceful scenes of post-war Paris occurring outside, accompanied by rousing orchestral music. This counterpointing does nothing but heighten the horror of what we are seeing.
Whilst the film could have been shot in colour, it’s no small mercy that it wasn’t. If it were in full glorious technicolour, it would simply be too much to handle for probably just about everyone. Seeing gallons of blood pour out of a horse’s throat is bad enough in black and white; in colour it would have been atrocious. But again, that’s part of Franju’s clever direction. Keeping the film in black and white helps it to achieve an emotional response, whereas in colour it would have, no doubt, elicited a physical one, that of being reacquainted with a previous meal.
The film is narrated very matter-of-factly, which mirrors the attitudes of the abattoir workers. They go about their work without obvious emotion, cigarettes in mouth, tossing severed heads to one side with ruthless efficiency like a discarded apple.
There’s something (quite a lot, in fact) utterly repulsive about Blood of the Beasts but, at the same time, something intriguing and powerful. It’s harrowing to see animals treated this way, but it’s also interesting to see human nature at work, the barbaric lengths gone to for a plate of food. Franju’s direction also help turn it from shockumentary into a much more tangible piece of filmmaking. It’s worth taking the time to watch, but be prepared for some uncomfortable viewing.
Blood of the Beasts can be watched on YouTube here.