TIFF 2015 Review | ‘Body’ Makes You Laugh Without Knowing Why

Though far from experimental, Body resists a plot for a long time. The film’s flagging motions mirror those of its three central characters, who are each anesthetized by chronic mourning. Four years after the death of his wife, an unnamed prosecutor (Janusz Gajos) spends his after hours sipping vodka and staring at grisly crime photos on his computer. He hardly speaks to his bulimic adult daughter Olga (Justyna Suwala), whose illness begins leaving her passed out in pools of vomit in their shared bathroom. Olga seems destined to meet eating-disorder therapist Anna (Maja Ostaszewska), whose way of coping with the death of her young son is both the most wholesome and the most unhinged of the trio.

It all feels rather like Sundance People Problems, except that Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska, who won the Silver Bear for Best Director at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival for Body, presents it all with the slyest of humor and a keen exploration of our fascination with the limits and the marvels of our physical selves. Take the opening scene, in which the prosecutor approaches a presumed suicide by hanging. When the police cut the body down, the confused, maybe embarrassed man begins to flee. It’s the kind of surprise you laugh at because you’re not sure what else to do, then realize several seconds later how funny it was — one of several such moments in this darkly comic drama. 

The double blow of finding the remains of a grotesque crime at work and his daughter unconscious by the toilet after another binge and purge makes the prosecutor miss his wife more keenly than ever. Enter Anna, a psychologist by day and a psychic by night, who informs him that his dead spouse has a message for him. The prosecutor is rightly skeptical, as is Olga, who later discloses her reasons behind her seething hostility toward her father in a chilling and affecting revelation. But the prosecutor’s house does seem haunted lately: the door to his dead wife’s room keeps opening, the record player mysteriously turns itself on, and it’s cold all the time, but only in their apartment. And Anna must have a crib in her living room for some reason, even though her young son died years and years ago.  

The séance that Olga and her father reluctantly agree to bittersweetly captures how desperate we are to transcend our corporeality while reveling in what our anatomies can offer us. Like the rest of the film, that masterful scene is tender, impish, searching, and fascinated by loss. Though enervated at times, Body is an inviting puzzle of a film that heralds the arrival of a new international talent. 

Images via Nowhere

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