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Hannibal Rising
UKScreen Rating:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Since Manhunter in 1986, we’ve known about Hannibal (The Cannibal) Lecter. In this prequel, we find out how the monster was created.
At the tail end of World War Two, as a young boy, he and his younger sister Mischa were the only survivors of an attack on their family’s castle in Lithuania.
They seek refuge in a cottage in the grounds, where they’re found by a gang of local bandits, led by Grutus (Ifans). Initially, it’s in their interest to keep the children alive, but when the bitter cold means they won’t be able to survive, they decide to kill Mischa – eating her, they claim, is their only hope of staying alive.
Eight years later, Hannibal (Ulliel) is living back in the old family castle – only this time, it’s an orphanage that’s been taken over by the Soviets. He escapes and heads to France to find an uncle, arriving to find that the uncle’s Japanese widow (Gong Li) is the only one living there. She takes him under her wing and eventually moves to Paris with him, where he trains to be a doctor.
But his interest in medicine is not altruistic – all the while, he’s plotting ways to hunt down, round up and exact his merciless revenge on the bandits who ate his sister.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

“His heart died with Mischa,” says the investigating police officer – a war crimes expert – when the decapitated and part-eaten bodies start being discovered, in Lithuania and France.
There’s no doubting the fact that having such a traumatic start to your life could have a terrible psychological effect on someone, but there’s a sense in which this makes it all too easy – if we start feeling sorry for the “monster.”
By explaining, if not excusing, his crimes in this sequel, are we not taking something away from the almost ruthless and gratuitous horror we have experienced in previous films?
Call me pedantic, but one of the most frustrating things about this film for me was the fact that – for the viewers convenience, of course – everyone speaks English, in a wide variety of inconsistent accents. But there’s no sense that the film-makers themselves even realise that some of the characters are Lithuanian, others French and even Japanese. Back in the early 1950s, is it likely that an ill-educated Lithuanian boy could just turn up in France and study medicine at a prestigious university, communicating with the manipulative linguistic skills of a French intellectual? Hardly.
The odd mixture of accents – French, Scots and Welshmen playing Lithuanians speaking to eachother in English (but presumably it’s meant to be French…or their mother tongue?), Englishmen playing French and Germans – and having a very Japanese woman played by the most internationally famous Chinese actress, as if they’re interchangeable – also detract somewhat from the drama.
As is typical of the genre, the young Hannibal turns into the cold, calculated killing machine we see in later films, hunting down his childhood tormentors one by one, but the tension is somewhat reduced by the fact that the convention of leaving his nemisis – the boss – until last is cynically thrown out, just so that the film can close with some rare black comedy.
There are also many of those film moments where people could easily see off their targets, if only they didn’t insist on the dramatic pauses and intense stares that precede the kill.
It’s overburdened with cliche and convenience and the horror is too much in your face, rather than the more subtle terror we’ve seen in the previous (or I guess, subsequent) movies.

Opens nationwide February 9th 2007

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