When a filmmaker tells you that their nudity has no meaning, then films a documentary where they are more or less naked in most of the scenes, what are we to make of it? The viewer can’t help but notice and try to make meaning of a device that is so ‘in your face’.
An exercise in navel gazing, literally, French filmmaker Marina de Van shares her life in all its isolated, boring, intimate detail with her exposed body as the subject.
“I search my life for something dramatic then randomly start with Sunday laziness,” she tells us as she sits (naked) at her computer.
Perhaps she always lounges in her apartment without clothes or perhaps it’s a self-conscious affectation for the camera. Either way, the nakedness creates a special kind of detachment, revealing a ‘non persona’ rather than a distinct character. We take in details that would normally be concealed, like her nicotine patches. We look dispassionately at her loose flesh and signs of ageing. Threaded through the narrative are de Van’s attempts to hook up via dating apps.
Although she is closed in her apartment, she massages and exercises her body, including a facial massage that verges on Marina Abramovic style performance art.
De van’s background – she studied philosophy at the Sorbonne – lends the basis for this cool, detached, almost clinical investigation of her daily life.
“Life is happening with or without you,” she says.
Her earlier films include In My Skin (2002), about a woman (played by de Van) who self-mutilates during a post-accident breakdown. In interviews, de Van insists she didn’t want to explore the social problem of self-harm, but rather focus on the personal and individual.
“I’m fascinated by the distance between what the body experiences and what we experience in our minds,” she says.
In her artistic point of view, the body is object and a separate entity from the person it belongs to. De Van has been identified as part of the New French Extremism where ‘cinema de corps’ (cinema of the body) takes a transgressive viewpoint. Gaspar Noe (Love, Irreversible) is another filmmaker associated with the movement which involves controversial subject matter, sexual behaviour as violent rather than mutual and a tendency to social nihilism, as well as breaking the fourth wall. Predictably, de Van insists on avoiding being categorised, though her work follows many of these themes.
Meanwhile, as the film progresses, we watch as mess piles up in her flat. It’s a relief when she takes us outside. If there is a co-star, it’s her cat, mirroring her female owner’s mix of emotional and physical needs and self-sufficiency as she prowls the small cluttered apartment, nestles up to her owner and helps herself to water from the dripping tap.
My Nudity Means Nothing is a hybrid of art film and reality TV, unvarnished and quite boring. At the same time, it leaves an intriguing after-impression as a window on the (modern day) life of a 40 something year old woman, and points to wider issues of relationships, life as a single person, isolation and self-sufficiency.