How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (1971)

“The natives are barbarous savages — different from us, and without any religion.”

How Tasty Poster

Synopsis:
In 16th century Brazil, a French mercenary (Arduano Colassanti) is mistaken for Portuguese and captured by a tribe of Indians, who tell him he has eight months to live before being eaten.

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Review:
This uneven yet compelling film by director Nelson Pereira dos Santos is a classic of Brazil’s cinema novo movement, which emphasized a reliance on native Brazilian aesthetic sensibilities and a break with cinematic conventions. It’s a cynical and subversive look at colonialism in 16th century South America, told through the non-idealized story of Indians dealing with the rape of their land in the only way they know how: through native traditions. This includes capturing and eating their enemies (the Portuguese), in order to literally ingest their “strength” — in other words, cannibalism.

It’s to Pereira dos Santos’s credit that this element of the film is never sensationalized. In fact, he makes every effort to present the Indians’ lifestyle as “natural” — including their near-absence of clothing. Not surprisingly, Brazilian censors had a problem with this lack of modesty, and prevented the film from being shown for a year after it was made; but it’s a testament to the film’s ethnographic authenticity that the nudity quickly seems commonplace, and never exploitative.

While How Tasty is a provocative and disturbing film in many ways, however, it’s not uniformly successful. This is primarily due to the opening montage sequence, which misrepresents the film as a comedy; though it certainly possesses satirical elements (the title alone is evidence of this), it’s not really a farce. Once this brief sequence is over, however, it’s remarkably easy to get caught up in the travails of Arduano Colassanti’s “Frenchman” — whose fate remains uncertain until the very end.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A compelling pseudo-ethnographic look at the Tupinambas tribe of Brazil
    Ethnography
  • The Frenchman’s new wife describing to him what his cannibalism ritual will be like
    Explaining
  • Beautiful natural settings
    Line
  • The haunting final images
    Explanation

Must See?
Yes, as an acknowledged classic of Brazilian cinema novo.

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One Response to “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (1971)”

  1. First viewing. A frustrating once-must, for its place in cinema history.

    This one must have been an art-house hit. And someone like Bunuel would probably have liked this very National Geographic travelogue a lot more than I did.

    There’s little set-up; the film throws the viewer into a reality and seems to require considerable prior knowledge of its subject. Myself, I’m not up enough on this chapter in history – however, on its own terms, ‘…Tasty…’ doesn’t seem to fully illuminate. And, for the story it’s trying to tell, it’s somewhat tiresome.

    I’ll agree that it’s too unique to not be a must. And perhaps a second viewing helps. And perhaps I’m too out-of-the-loop for the material to appreciate it more. But I went into it as an interested outsider – I’d been hunting the film down for years – and didn’t find it as compelling as I’d hoped.

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