Claire Simon’s evocative documentary Our Body (Notre corps) is as dense and detailed as it is caring and thought-provoking.
In Claire Simon’s (The Woods Dreams Are Made Of) eye-opening and carefully structured documentary Our Body (Notre corps), the immense variation between every woman is captured in intensive detail, as is their shared pain and happiness. Early on in this lengthy documentary, a doctor tells a patient that this is her experience. It’s no one else’s, it is private and personal to her, and no parent should influence her decision. Simon, who by a scary coincidence during filming became part of the story and not just the eyes behind the camera, keenly repeats this point at Our Body’s conclusion, with her documentary painting an incredibly personal and strikingly varied portrait of womanhood.
Our Body begins with a brief introduction of how Simon came to make this documentary, told via voiceover as she walks to a Parisian public hospital. Across the documentary’s 168-minute runtime and in the gynaecology ward of this hospital, we meet women of all ages and walks of life: an elderly lady completes an unsuccessful second treatment of chemotherapy; a woman gives birth to her third child; a teenager discusses their upcoming transition from female to male. Each person on camera is given time to tell their stories, not to the camera, but to the medical professionals that they converse with.
There are startling, breathtaking moments peppered throughout Our Body. At one point, a young Spanish-speaking woman learns, via broken Spanish and stilted translations, that the treatment of her cancer will likely result in infertility, her eyes bracing and tearing up at this life-changing news. Elsewhere, a jovial lady talks with ease to the camera, professing her love for cinema, moments before she is anaesthetised and operated on for cervical cancer treatment. Simon lingers considerately with curiosity and care, her camera elegantly capturing these women’s lives like a patient, intimate observer.
Our Body continually surprises with its assured handling and depiction of serious stories, as well as for its consistent empathy with which it portrays every single person on screen. This is heartfelt, haunting documentary filmmaking at its finest. Where last year’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica was more concerned with the surreal science of our bodies, Our Body, whilst still showing in unflinching detail various surgeries,focusses on the female body and the agency—or lack of—that many women have over it.
At one point, Our Body’s focus shifts outside of the hospital and onto the street by its entrance, where a group of women protest against the often invasive nature of medical professionals. Consent is a must, and procedures should be conducted only if necessary and never for educational purposes. It is a thought-provoking moment, which perhaps is underexplored by Simon. She does, however, never turn in animosity against this hospital’s professionals: we see them caring for patients and treating them with respect. Simon observes each of these scenes with a basic human kindness and impartiality.
Necessary moments of rest and reflection are provided with evocative shots of the hospital’s corridors, quiet places kissed by sunlight where medical professionals bustle by. Backing up Our Body’s reflective resonance is Elias Boughedir’s original score, which is both haunting and thought-provoking. When Simon’s own journey of illness is chronicled around the midpoint of Our Body, she becomes both director and subject, the lines between each role blurring. Importantly, she never allows her story to have more time nor focus than any other person.
Throughout Our Body, this beautiful message of equality and shared but different experiences is consistently underlined, and is done so once more by Simon in her closing statement: the doctors have many different experiences, but each of these female patients has their own personal, singular story to tell.