The English language knows the term „able-bodied“. It means as much as: having a strong, healthy body, being physically fit. In this perspective, Janusz and Anna are both “able-bodied”. Their bodies allow them to work, to walk in the park, to sit on the sofa. Also Janusz’ daughter Olga has a healthy body – which she’s destroying systematically herself.
No healthy ways to deal with grief
In “Body” Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska portrays, like the title already says, bodies and our handling of them. Janusz (Janusz Gajos) is an inquisitor whose task it is to put exactly on record what happened at a crime scene, how the human being in question was killed, or how he or she committed suicide. Janusz is precise and analytical, even a newborn baby, cut into pieces in a train station toilette, doesn’t keep him from doing his job. Dead bodies Janusz is able to handle, for him they are objects of investigation. But when it comes to handling the very alive body of his daughter Olga (Justyna Suwała), Janusz is helpless – he has to watch Olga refusing to eat, stuffing herself in secret, then later throwing it all up. Olga is in the process of dissolving her body.
Since Janusz‘ wife, Olga’s mother, was killed in an accident a few years ago, father and daughter only coexist and are irritated by the behaviour of the other. Janusz works, Olga throws up – neither of them finds a healthy way to deal with their grief.
Eventually Janusz commits Olga to a hospital, out of fear that she could kill herself. It’s the hospital where psychologist Anna works. Gentle and understanding, she tries to help her patients with eating disorders on their way to recovery. Years ago Anna’s baby died of sudden infant death. Now she’s leading a reclusive life, with only a huge dog to keep her company. After all these years Anna still hasn’t removed the empty children’s bed and presents a photo of a completely foreign boy as a grandson to her mother. But nonetheless Anna isn’t unhappy, for she puts her body into service for others: Anna is a medium receiving messages from the deceased.
Longing for closeness
Szumowska uses calm images to stage the encounter of these three people who all lost a loved one and each interact so differently with their own bodies: close-ups of faces or food alternate with the cityscape of a rainy, grey Warsaw. Despite the serious subject, there is a lot of humor in certain situations in “Body”, for instance when Anna tries to convince Janusz to believe in messages from the afterworld – and Janusz’ face is twitching because of suppressed laughter. Janusz Gajos plays Janusz as a homely looking, chubby guy with reduced facial expression. Maja Ostaszewska’s Anna is warmhearted and affectionate, the kind of therapist everybody wishes for – if it wasn’t for her esoteric streak.
In the end Janusz, Olga and Anna all have a longing for closeness, but completely different ways to express this longing. Małgorzata Szumowska succeeded in making a small, touching movie about how we use our bodies to handle certain things. Because, even if a body fulfills its daily duties, it can only be wholly sane if the corresponding mind is sane, too.
Translated from German.
Read more in this column Julia Korbik: Breathless through the night