From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“Lost in a remote part of Eastern Europe, Sam is a foreigner, searching for his biological father Lagzdins where a minor road accident leads to a chance meeting with a pig-farmer’s daughter, who captures him and making a slave on the farm.”
If you find that synopsis a bit awkward – maybe even a bit foreign – then you’re likely beginning the journey with Sam (played by Kevin Janssens) on the right foot: he’s lost in this Bizarro countryside, and he curiously finds himself with only two (somewhat) friends to speak of and with … the lovely pig-farmer’s daughter Kirke (the fetching Laura Silina) and a wayward piglet searching for freedom and independence that somehow – magically – speaks his language … or a close facsimile … or is it all just Sam’s imagination?
What helps writer/director Aik Karapetian’s film keep moving is the fact that it’s all composed with narration: a kindly, old, omniscient voice guides the audience on its way through the cinematic highs and lows of Samuel’s travels, happily providing more than a bit of narrative context for those who might be missing the finer points. Like a good travel guide, the narrator sets up this somewhat chaotic and merry myth, all the while highlighting almost exactly what the audience needs to know about this odd assortment of rural townies who are all little more than one executable search warrant away from incarceration. It’s a damn good thing there are no police in the area!
Like with any good fairy tale, viewers are encouraged to not take this all that seriously, even though there’s more than a copious dribbling of violence, blood, and bondage to keep them distracted. Sam, in fact, spends much of the film looking like a farmhand extra in the most inappropriate BDSM porn perhaps conceived; but it’s all meant to be so lyrically lighthearted – yes, even the torture sequences – that there’s no fear of his authentically being harmed. Well, harmed to death, that is. He’s certainly battered, bruised, and bludgeoned, yet it’s all in the service to the magic of romance … which he inevitably finds and fulfills, though he’s unsure what to make of it all come the ending … as perhaps are we.
Still, you can’t dismiss Squeal’s charm.
Sam is meant to be anyone. He could be you. He could be me. With better abs, though.
From the big city, he finds himself the proverbial fish-out-of-water – the ultimate stranger in a strange land – once he arrives in the distant landscape. Though he’s on a quest, it isn’t one he won’t abandon given the right circumstances; when a forced union with Kirke, her father, and a drove of pigs presents itself, Sam will eventually come to understand that he can even look past imprisonment and forced servitude when it gives him purpose, something the script leads us to believe has been missing from the man’s life up to this point. As a character, he proves that perhaps the best foot forward into any of life’s biggest adventures is the one that stumbles into it; personal safety be damned when it comes down to matters of the heart overwhelming the machinations of the mind.
Despite a whole lot of reasons to dislike Squeal, it’s a film that’s hard not to embrace; and that’s a testament to Karapetian’s direction, his ensemble’s winning performances, and the overall tone of the journey. Indeed, the cinema has seen a tale told through the eyes of a pig before – rather famously in 1995’s Babe – and I’m sure that association between these two films was deliberate. Though they’re clearly constructed from two entirely disparate drawing boards, they could take place in the same universe … one being intended for children and the other (Sam’s) serving as the adult counterpart. Imagine that Babe grew up and found itself in a David Lynch film, and you get the idea.
Indeed, it’s all oinks and slop until maturity sets in.
My one major quibble – you knew I’d have at least one, didn’t you? As the film moves forward, it becomes increasingly difficult to bury Silina’s beauty under her drab clothing and dirty make-up. The actress has the face of a fashion model, so those of us watching closely at the outset can kinda/sorta guess the trajectory of her character: she’ll deliberately grow outwardly more lovely as she and Sam are drawn together. That predictability definitely works against the story here but given where it all winds up I’m uncertain if Karapetian had any other choice.
Squeal (aka Samuel’s Travels) (2021) was produced by Mistrus Media and Polar Bear. Publicity materials report that the film will enjoy a limited theatrical release in the United States along with digital play available on August 19th, 2022. As for the technical specifications? Clearly, no expense was spared in bringing this occasionally delightful and sometimes comical film to life, though I found a few of the night-time sequences to be a bit too dark (photographically) for my preferences. Minor quibble but still honest.
Recommended, but …
Don’t expect to make too much of Squeal beyond its obvious fairytale allusions being deconstructed when running headfirst into reality. Yes, yes, and yes: the symbolism, analogies, and metaphors of this pigs vs. peasants yarn might be rich beyond compare, but it’s still important to remember that fairy tales – in the end – aren’t real, as even writer/director Karapetian proves with his closing scene focused on Samuel’s inevitable quandary.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Good Deed Entertainment provided me with complimentary screening access to Squeal (2021) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.