The phrase “turning the camera inward” takes on a new literal meaning in true body horror film “De Humani Corporis Fabrica.”
Not for the squeamish, the immersive experience from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab is co-directed by “Leviathan” filmmakers Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. The film debuted at 2022 Cannes and played at TIFF and NYFF.
Five centuries ago, anatomist André Vésale opened up the human body to science for the first time in history. Today, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” opens the human body to the cinema. It reveals that human flesh is an extraordinary landscape that exists only through the gaze and attention of others. As places of care, suffering and hope, hospitals are laboratories that connect everybody in the world.
Valentina Novati, Charles Gillibert, Pauline Gygax, Max Karli, Verena Paravel, and Lucien Castaing-Taylor produce the film.
“Thinking about how modern medicine has used the tools of cinema to develop its own powers of seeing, we wanted to try to do the opposite, to borrow the tools of medicine for cinema, to allow us to see the human body in a way almost none of us ever get to see, and to break open the usual ways we look at our bodies and the world, to give us a view of our interior selves that’s more corporeal, more incarnate,” co-director Paravel said. “But one that also lets us glimpse our vulnerability: the fragility of life and the ever-present spectre of death. Filming in this way, largely ‘inside’ our bodies, also reveals the vital force that animates us and our fleshy selves.”
Paravel continued, “We realized that the hospital is a theatrical space and a tragic one: It is itself a kind of body that contains other bodies and works on them. The hospital is an organ in society, which holds up a mirror to society and often prefigures social changes that are about to arrive. Within its confines, organs, functions, and systems coexist. This film is also an anatomical study of that body as well.”
The film uses 350 hours of footage across 30 different hospital units, and as the IndieWire review states, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” takes the view that that “human body, beneath smiles, skin and hair, is a philosophically terrifying prospect, that all human accomplishment, emotion, and endeavor is a product of such ignoble fleshy puppetry.”
The review adds, “But the demystification of the machine that contains the ghost makes the feats of both the surgeons and the filmmakers feel all the more transcendent. For all the brutality of seeing dozens of screws glowing bright in an X-ray of a torso, it is just as striking that a spine can be rebuilt one block at a time, that debilitating illnesses and injuries can be repaired so routinely. Many of the surgeries thrillingly operate as mini-mysteries; given almost no context, it’s up to the viewer to gauge what is being operated on and why.”
“De Humani Corporis Fabrica” premieres April 14 at New York City’s IFC Center and April 28 at Laemmle Glendale in Los Angeles. The film is distributed by Grasshopper Film and Gratitude Films.
Check out the trailer below.