Film review: “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” ​​by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing

A cultural object scrutinized by a free and assumed criticism. Today the movie De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor,

to discover in theaters :

With its Latin title like that of an anatomical treatise, this film impresses in the literal sense, like the previous works of this duo moreover (Leviathan and Caniba). A film that imprints striking images on the viewer’s retina and provides contrasting sensations – curiosity, wonder, disgust, surprise. For this feature film shown at Cannes and which immediately entered the legend of films that make good people vomit or faint, the two filmmakers worked in several hospitals in the Paris region, and show the outside and the inside the human body. The film thus begins in the sterilized haziness of an intensive care unit, around a very thin body we can see complicated equipment, while in voice-over professionals talk about patients: those who are already dead, those who are going to die . From there, disparate filmed sequences follow one another, some of which are captured by the tiny cameras used in operating rooms, others by the directors in the bedroom, for example of a pregnant woman about to undergo a caesarean. , still others in a geriatrics ward where the camera follows a duo of senile old women drawn into a kind of odyssey through the corridors, others in the morgue where, accompanied by zouk, two women dress a body dead. The body is shown from every angle, turned inside out like a rabbit skin, made accessible to its guts, sometimes filmed from afar – we recognize a penis handled and drained carelessly for long minutes -, sometimes on a scale such as t is impossible to distinguish which part it is, gut, artery, flesh, mucous membrane: the body as a material, as a tissue, as a plastic. We see and hear hyper-technological precision medicine, for example during this prostate operation which apparently requires extreme meticulousness, sometimes almost artisanal, a work of bolts, screws, large clamps as in mechanics .

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The mystical risk

On the scale of each sequence, the film gives to see and to think in a rather convincing way. There is an obvious convergence between cinema and medical imagery – the beauty of the examinations under the microscope of a tumor proves it, up to this programmatic sequence of an eye operation, which recalls before it a host of eyes seen and triturated on the screen. Where he is a little less convincing is in his editing, and in particular this strong use, to make a transition between sequences in the body, sequences outside the body. I am thinking of these images filmed in the underground corridors of the hospital, or even this sample of analyzes propelled in a pneumatic system. Corridors, pipes, as many guts seen as intestines or arteries, a process that spins a little heavily the metaphor of the hospital in organic structure, without really thinking more advanced about the institution.

We feel the film rather worked by a philosophical or theological ambition – the title in Latin could also draw the interpretation from this side -, with this beginning in the intensive care unit where the nurses evoke the “karma” of the patients, and this final shot in front of a fresco representing a parodied last meal of Christ in the staff cafeteria. I am not very convinced by this intention, which in my opinion gives the film a form of inappropriate bombast. We feel that he is trying to make a speech on the misery of the human condition, we find ourselves sometimes a little encumbered with formulas that are a little cliché themselves sometimes Latin (tempus fugit and others miserere nobis), which I find short-circuit the aesthetic reception of the images. In my opinion, there are certain sequences which are too many, these are those filmed in the geriatrics department. I don’t quite see what the representation of old age and its shipwrecks has to do there, if not to give a moralistic tinge to the affairs of the body. The film would certainly have been more successful by assuming a pure graphic radicalism.

Transcription of the radio chronicle of Lucile Commeaux

Film review: “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” ​​by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor