Bodies [Tegan Clancy, Australia, 2018]

Our relationships with our bodies are complex and often contradictory, simultaneously sources of great empowerment, whilst also acting as the root cause for unfounded feelings of inadequacy. In Bodies, four interweaving stories of womanhood, unique in their outlook and separate in their tellers, are all united by one question: ‘Do you think you can love yourself if you don’t love your body?’ This uplifting documentary from debut director, Tegan Clancy, ruminates on topics including personal growth, relationship abuse, and sexual fulfilment, whilst always returning to the unifying power of art to express, challenge and grow. Clancy’s tiny snapshot of four distinct women’s lived experiences, offers a window into the challenges of understanding and embracing one’s own self-image.

During an eight-and-a-half-minute runtime, viewers tiptoe effortlessly between the experiences of four different women, learning from each as they go. Bodies’ key quartet of Sarah Belle, Lara Campana, Clare Dea, and Chloe Rackley, all bring their own fascinating perspectives in answering the film’s central question. Jumping between each story, we witness a strong awareness of structure and pacing from the core creative team, as therapeutic interspersed shots of clay model sculpting reunite us around a central theme of acceptance as a “work in progress”.

Whether having our eyes opened to the emotionally challenging world of physical disability, as with actress, Clare Dea’s, relationship with her body after diagnosis of Poland’s Syndrome, or with Lara Campana’s journey as a sexual wellbeing educator, throughout we are reminded that our bodies are shells of fragility, and our psychological connection with them tender. Together, these are four women with extraordinary stories to tell. Actress, Clare Dea, had part of her Latissimus Dorsi muscle in her back removed in order to create a pectoral muscle behind her left breast, previously undeveloped during adolescence. Whilst life model, Sarah Belle, is the founder of Cuddle Melbourne, which provides a safe space for participants to receive platonic touch, whilst practising values of recognised boundaries and consent.

Together, director Tegan Clancy and writer/cinematographer Kim Weiss form a beautifully balanced double-act. Working in tandem, they forge a piece that is strong in its execution, clear in its message, and well realised across the board. With highly accomplished filming and sound recording (particularly vital for this form of interviewee led documentary), the basics are fully delivered, allowing the story, with its complex themes and messages, to shine.

The pacing of our experience is carefully tailored, and whilst we do jump from story to story quickly, our toes barely dipping in the water each time, it is not a sensation that feels rushed or trivial. Indeed, skating between each story as we do, makes it clearer to recognise the thematic connections that they share. Despite an inauspicious start, twee music underpinning images of blushing women not yet comfortable enough to engage fully in the question being asked of them, the film soon recovers. Fast we move on from this hackneyed though fashionable approach, into new ground, with fresh and interesting narrative angles and great emotional and philosophical depth for a project with such a short runtime.

Despite an exploration of weighty, self-reflexive topics, empowerment rather than downtrodden-ness is firmly at the forefront of Bodies. It is a welcome addition to the pool of feminist documentary film, that is sure to find audiences happy to sit with themselves after the credits have rolled in order to reconnect with themselves.

'Bodies' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.

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