Brother's Body, the cinematographic metamorphosis of an imperfect body
by Muriel Del Don
- The debut feature film of French Swiss director David Nicolas Parel is a hypnotic journey that gets under the audience’s skin and leads them into unexplored territories
Brother’s Body [+see also:
film profile] by David Nicolas Parel, which was screened in competition (in the Helvétiques section) of this year’s Visions du Réel Festival, takes the audience behind the scenes of bodybuilding competitions, where inhuman physical strain goes hand in hand with the blind determination of athletes who are willing to do anything, even go beyond their own limits. The director looks at the dark side of the world of bodybuilding, at its secrets and above all the athletes’ personal motivations. The acknowledgement of and quest for utopian aesthetic perfection lie at the heart of a life dedicated (or even sacrificed?) to strictness and discipline. Parel bravely tackles taboo subjects, such as doping, driven by a search for the truth and spontaneity that is at times unsettling. Brother’s Body is an incredibly intense and sincere documentary, as if the very life of the director depended on it.
The first feature film of Parel does not limit itself to exploring the almost sectarian world of bodybuilding, but opens itself to a broader, more personal and moving reflection on the often tense relationship between the director and his brother, both followers of the ‘cult of the perfect body’. David Nicolas Parel was, for years, an athlete who threw his body and soul into bodybuilding, and was worshipped by his brother, then still a teenager, for it. Their relationship, which brought them together but also kept them apart (the idol can be observed but only from a certain distance) placed the director on a pedestal, from which he was praised by a brother who considered him a legend. In Brother’s Body this relationship is turned on its head, as if a distorting mirror (in this case the camera) had changed the cards on the table, changing the game forever. The director in turn becomes the patient observer of his brother who has turned into an athlete and obsessive bodybuilder. The rigid and sacred rules, based around physical strain on the edge of madness, mental suffering and loneliness, are part of his everyday reality, a sort of second uncompromising family that demands total dedication.
Parel sensitively portrays a world which he knows well and is often seen as a dangerous breeding-ground for superficiality and hedonism. ‘His’ world is inhabited by psychologically complex characters for which the audience simultaneously experiences love and hate, comprehension and incomprehension, on a dizzying rollercoaster ride of emotions. After months of filming, the relationship between the director and his brother slowly but surely deteriorates, until the two are ready to explode. Their incomprehension of their new roles divides the two brothers instead of uniting them, pushing them towards a violent showdown. To avoid this, the Annecy-born director decides to step in front of the camera and starts training again, something he hasn’t done for years. By doing so he hopes to rekindle the fraternal link that has been lost. A sort of masochistic psychoanalysis through film. The body of his brother, and his own body, come to symbolise a society on a never-ending quest for utopian physical and mental control. The link tying the director to his brother is sought in a form of physical suffering that reflects the complexities and extreme nature of their relationship. A struggle with (against) themselves to refind themselves. An intense and disconcerting portrait of contemporary obsessions.
Brother's Body was released in Romandie and is being sold globally by PS. Productions.
(Translated from Italian)