Hot Docs

Stray Bodies Review: The Pros and Cons of Bodily Autonomy

Hot Docs 2024

4 mins read

Stray Bodies
(Greece/Switzerland/Italy/Bulgaria, 100 min.)
Dir. Elina Psykou
Programme: The Changing Face of Europe


Do women control their own bodies? Elina Psykou’s thought provoking essay film Stray Bodies finds multiple answers to this question. Tackling the subject head on, she offers situations in which abortion, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and euthanasia are performed by women and accomplices, who have to deal with consequences, both legal and ethical. Psykou has found compelling stories and characters in various countries throughout Europe, all of which have different laws and moral attitudes to these essential concerns.

Framing her overall narrative around the European Union (EU), Psykou cleverly introduces the film with women answering questions about themselves, the EU and politics. Of course, most will figure prominently in the doc. One of them is Robin, a feisty sprite of a woman, who, it turns out, is pregnant from a one-night stand. As she is a citizen of Malta, Robin has to choose to have the child there or go somewhere else to have an abortion, since the operation is strictly illegal on her island. Psykou follows her to Italy, which she pretends to visit as a tourist, after she energetically mimes Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” in a music video parody set in Maltese churches.

A contrasting story with another young woman features Katerina, ironically an Italian, who could have an abortion at home but can’t legally use IVF, which she needs to have a child. Psykou shows Katerina with her large family of siblings and parents, making us identify with her—and the director follows her to Greece, where such a procedure is possible. In Greece, Pyskou introduces us to a female doctor, wrestling with the ethical dimensions of end-of-life issues after witnessing a brutally extended death, who decides to work with a Swiss doctor on an assisted suicide. Psykou’s elaborate carousel-like structure finally moves to Switzerland, where we watch aged French quadriplegic Mme. Duvivier die with the help of a doctor and her own son in a medical intervention, which is still illegal in France.

It’s no surprise to find out that Elina Psykou has made narrative feature films before this documentary. She knows how to reveal her characters, giving them enough time to show their passions and humour in what could otherwise be mundane scenes. In Switzerland, for example, the Greek doctor and her Swiss colleague exchange confidences with a swift rapport; it makes us care that much more when one of them has tears in her eyes when Duvivier finally succumbs to eternal sleep. Similarly, we see the warmth that Katerina has for her family, which makes her decision to have a child through IVF that much more uplifting.

Psykou doesn’t ignore the intellectual side of her essay film. She tries to be even handed, allowing priests and politicians to pontificate about what women should do instead of having abortions, IVF treatments or practice euthanasia. Speeches are made and objections are raised but Stray Bodies does offer us stories and characters who move us. Despite the fact that Robin’s story is staged—though the details of the abortion are real—this is a compelling documentary, which makes us care more than ever about the rights of women to control their bodies globally.


Stray Bodies screens at Hot Docs 2024.


Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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