Vegetarian Cannibal delivers a much different film than its title would suggest. Of the title's two oxymoronic nouns, one is literal while the other stays merely figurative. Given the film's focus on a morally hollow monster, it's probably not the one you'd expect.
The film offers a pretty basic tale of rewarded corruption in the same vein of Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant. In this case, we witness the moral decline and financial rise of a gynecologist rather than a police officer. And honestly, if you're going to do this kind of film it might as well be with a guy who terminates pregnancies for the mob. So instead of Nicholas Cage shoving a gun into an old woman's face, we have a guy handing off a half-eaten sandwich before casually performing a stomach turning abortion procedure. As the film progresses, he gets in more and more over his head, facing repeated close calls while sinking to new plateaus of depravity. It's not really a blast.
There have been many films that feature heinous psychopaths as main characters. Usually they display some modicum of charisma magnetic enough that we can't look away. Vegetarian Cannibal takes the opposite approach. Its Dr. Danko Babić (played by Rene Bitorajac) remains firmly abject from beginning to end. Not only abject, but kind of nerdy. He, of course, doesn't know it. But the film appears to. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but Vegetarian Cannibal seems to be telling us something by bookending the film with scenes in which Babić rocks out on those lame-ass electric padded drum kits run through an amplifier turned up to three, maybe four. Patrick Bateman's obsession with music was strange but also kind of cool. This, on the other hand, is total middle aged dork shorthand. Perhaps a better character to compare him to would be Man Bites Dog's narcissistic serial killer, Ben. Both characters give us identifiable nerds made kings by the films they inhabit.
This is fitting because Rene Bitorajac portrays Babić as a guy with tons of insecurities the film never comments upon. His stubby frame seems uncomfortably overpacked with muscles like he could burst at any moment. With his purposefully messy long hair and near constant five o'clock shadow Babić looks kind of like what we'd get if James Le Grosse played Kato Kaelin. I like James Le Grosse, but that's not a good thing.
This deviation between what we recognize in Babić and what what Babić knows about himself provides the film's core point of interest beyond those that inevitably come with the sub-genre. It's there in the title, really. After all the awful things we see him do -- and we see him do some really awful things. Babić's crimes are not flashy, but their atrocity cuts deep -- he refuses to eat meat. At first this appears to be just another manifestation of his vanity. But he displays genuine disgust during a trip to an underground dog fight, revealing a love for animals that contextualizes everything we learn about him throughout the film.
Supposedly, the film is a scathing critique of corruption in Croatia. Maybe it is; I really have no point of reference for Croatian society except that it unfairly tempts me to break my "No Crustacean Puns" New Year resolution. The broken bureaucracy under attack here hardly seems exclusive to any one country. This isn't The Wire, though. As with The Bad Lieutenant, Vegetarian Cannibal's nastiness excels too far beyond believability to provide a serious warning of society's sponsored madmen.
It's certainly worth seeing, though, especially for Rene Bitoraiac's enthusiastically sleazy performance and one amazing single-take shot in which a handful of different characters enjoy a heartbreaking but silent mini-drama, which then cuts to some almost MacGruber level fucking.