Slightly past its midpoint, the nearly three-hour documentary “Our Body” hits its stride and never lets up, as the film sutures scenes of patients — younger and older, cisgender and trans — at the gynecological unit of a Paris hospital. In a potent and intimate sequence, the film goes from a midwife-aided birth to a C-section delivery, then to a mother who has experienced painful complications during her delivery and, finally, to a woman trying to navigate her pregnancy while in chemotherapy.
After one mother uses a smartphone to record her newborn’s wails, our tears may already be warranted. But it is the leap from this sequence to a powerful doctor-patient consultation — one for the documentary’s director, Claire Simon — that adds a fresh layer of depth to this already profound meditation on patients, and women at large.
“You see to the film,” the doctor tells Simon, as the filmmaker receives a cancer diagnosis. “I’ll see to you.”
Simon’s own words to her care provider, about going from filmmaker to patient, seem to speak to the limits of cinema-forged empathy, even as the documentary provides another achingly human example of its power.
“Our Body” includes footage of a vehement demonstration protesting gynecological violence that is staged outside the hospital. But there are more scenes of compassion than of medical arrogance. The patients often meet hard news with equanimity. How much the presence of a camera has to do with this, we can’t fully know. But Simon’s belief in the interconnectedness yet singularity of the varied patients is palpable. She rewards our patience with a deeper understanding of our bodies and ourselves.
Not rated. In French and English, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 48 minutes. In theaters.
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