Our Body (Notre corps)
(France, 168 min.)
Dir. Claire Simon
For decades, British-born and France-based filmmaker Claire Simon has focussed her eye unflinchingly on her subjects. With her acute, direct cinema style, her non-fiction films show a particular fascination for the human body and how it is perceived from multiple perspectives. One sees this character from her earliest feature The Patients to later works like Garages, Engines and Men. Her latest film, Our Body, delves even deeper into some of the most intimate, exposed moments of any woman’s life. Simon’s film visits a gynecological hospital on the outskirts of Paris and illustrates over the generous running time a poignant, probing insight into patient and practitioner alike.
There’s a delicate sense of voyeurism at play here. It feels throughout that as audience we bear witness to these otherwise closed-door sessions, or perhaps even invade moments that are meant to be private. It’s this nakedness of emotion, and at times nakedness of body, that Our Body truly exposes in its unique, quiet fashion.
From a young girl discussing her unplanned pregnancy and the partner who has shown subsequent indifference to the outcome, to young transwomen navigating the challenges of transition and the vagaries of biological considerations versus emotional realities, there’s plenty to unpack. The film feels epic because of the variety of experiences documented. Our Body literally arcs from birth to death with every major personal landmark in between.
Simon’s presence is often articulated with the patients occasionally glancing into the lens, or even the doctor noting the presence of another person in the room. At other times, her presence seems invisible, like a fly on the wall capturing intense conversations or graphic procedures.
The epic sweep of these various vignettes makes for an overwhelming yet extremely engaging film. These are stories that are more often lived or shared, but rarely provided with such a close look. Later in the film, the director becomes a subject herself, which provides the film an even deeper level of poignancy. While Simon’s clearly reticent to become her own subject, her journey is certainly a powerful ingredient in the film’s second half.
The introductory sections that focus on Simon’s feet may seem redundant, and the voiceover that bookends may be more maudlin than effective, but these are small quibbles. Similarly, the long running time is both a benefit in that it lets Simon showcase such a wide variety of stories, but can be needlessly indulgent, perhaps lingering a bit too often on arty shots that could have been clipped out without harming the whole.
In the end, Our Body is a beautiful examination of those being examined, a probing, profound look at women’s health concerns and the way in which the institution of health care responds to these events. Overall there’s a stark beauty to what’s portrayed, both from the courage of those undergoing challenging times, to the intense confidence of the professionals who have seen it far more often than we are witness to here. It’s a fascinating journey taking the quotidian concerns of these women and presenting them in a way that’s both larger than life and deeply personal. Simon’s success is to lead us on this complicated journey, and thanks to her willing subjects, we as audience are treated to something that’s quietly spectacular.
Our Body premiered at the 2023 Berlinale.