A Film a Week - Body / Telo

 previously published on Cineuropa

Slovenian producer and documentarian Petra Seliškar does not shy away from expressing very personal thoughts and feelings in her work, from her feature-length debut (and her best-known work) Grandmas of Revolution (2006) on. She has a habit of sharing her own thoughts with her audiences, as well as exposing her family and circle of friends in her films. In her newest outing, Body, filmed over the course of 20 years, she deals with a friend she’s had since her adolescence, Urška Ristić, and her battle with autoimmune diseases. Body premiered in the Documentary Competition of Sarajevo, and further festival exposure should be expected.

Seliškar opens her doc with a sequence that radiates calm, wisdom and clarity. Urška, now in her forties, sits on a lakeside beach with her daughters Zoja and Mija, preparing to reflect on her life so far. As we learn from an excerpt of archival video material, Urška was a promising pianist who even competed internationally. We also learn that she led an interesting life, to say the least, in her twenties, spending some time in a psychiatric ward and having her first daughter quite early and out of wedlock. Zoja changed her for the better and made her more stable, repairing her complicated relationship with her own parents – but then the first disease struck.

After a delay in getting the proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, Urška was left in a sorry state, having to learn to speak, walk, and recognise her family and loved ones again. Being a fighter by nature and enjoying a lot of support from her parents, daughter and Bojan, with whom she was in a relationship at the time, she gets better, starts playing again and attains happiness once more, with the icing on the cake this time being the birth of her second daughter. But a new disease starts to afflict her, and this time it’s even more insidious. Can she accept this change to her body and her mind, and come to accept and love herself again?

Seliškar covers this extended period of time and the wide spectrum of topics touched upon in Urška’s inspired and frank narration with an exceptional sense of style. The primary timeline, in which Urška and her daughters spend their time as a family on the lake, serves as the basic framework for the whole film and constitutes the starting point from which the narrator jumps to her memories and musings. Seliškar tends to capitalise on the optimal distance and point of view in Brand Ferro’s lively, summer-tinged camerawork in order to paint an emotional picture, while the length of the blackouts, slow fade-outs and fade-ins in the editing by Sashko Potter Micevski and Sandra Bastašić provides the necessary emphasis on what is important.

Seliškar is even more playful when she provides the visual background to Urška’s memories, thoughts, musings and even dreams, using a lot of archival and home material filmed ad hoc, but also some abstract imagery filmed through a microscope lens. The music, varying from punk rock to neoclassical and even experimental tracks composed by Vladimir Rakić, is also in perfect sync with the visuals, and complements this portrait of an extraordinary person and her battle. In the end, Body is a visually stunning and emotionally breathtaking piece of cinema.

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