Review: Flesh Out
by Davide Abbatescianni
- BERLIN 2019: Michela Occhipinti's debut fiction feature tackles an unfamiliar culture and world with simplicity and sincerity
Michela Occhipinti’s debut feature film, Flesh Out [+see also:
film profile], was screened on 12 February in the Panorama section at the 69th Berlinale. Before starting work on the film, the director lived in a number of different countries and worked in the documentary and advertising fields. Her first feature documentary, Lettere dal deserto, was selected by 80 festivals and won 21 awards.
The film is set in Mauritania, an Islamic country in northwest Africa, devastated by poverty and underdevelopment. The plot focuses on Verida (Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche), a middle-class girl gearing up to tie the knot as part of an arranged marriage and, as per her country's traditions, is forced to put on twenty pounds in order to reach her husband’s desired beauty standards. During the three months preceding their wedding day, Verida fights inner battles and her fragile certainties are challenged when a man called Sidi (Sidi Mohamed Chighaly) starts visiting her regularly in order to monitor her weight, and is genuinely interested in forming a bond with the girl.
The film’s almost documentary style is very effective. At times the boundaries between fiction and reality start to blur, serving to enhance the credibility of the film’s characters and their stories. Not only has the director tried to tell Verida’s story, she also offers Western audiences a portrait of an unfamiliar country and society. Various scenes see the camera dwell on beauty products for sale in the grandmother's shop, the preparation of couscous, cuts of meat of dubious quality laid out on the counter of a local butcher’s shop and the chaotic and dusty streets of a nation in disarray.
Verida’s oppressive journey is supported by a solid performance. In fact, Occhipinti chose to cast non-professional actors in her latest film, directing them with great care and realism. Verida also undergoes an unprecedented evolution, gradually and through small acts of rebellion against her mother, attempting to establish possession over her own body, life and freedom. The film's final sequence, and in particular, its final scene, represent (effectively and metaphorically) the completion of the girl's journey of re-appropriation. Wisely, the director avoids falling into the pitfalls of showing characters delivering universal and rhetorical speeches about freedom, which we've seen many times in films and other forms of media. This choice only serves to add to the film’s artistry and reinforces the impact of its final message.
Occhipinti's debut feature is a fine film, which stands out thanks to its excellent performances, credible and well-represented setting and interesting, simple and linear screenplay, written by the director with Simona Coppini (Tumaranké, SanBa). Flesh Out is a co-production by Marta Donzelli and Gregorio Paonessa for Vivo Film and was co-produced by RAI Cinema. The film’s international sales are being handled by the German distribution company Films Boutique.
(Translated from Italian)
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