Serendipity (2019)

Serendipity

There’s more than one way to get a head.

(2019) Documentary (Cohen Media Group) Prune Nourry, Agnes Varda.  Directed by Prune Nourry

For some artists, their art is indistinguishable from their lives. French sculptress/videographer/performance artist Prune Nourry is one such. Her feminism is central to both her life and art; fertility is a recurring subject for her and the female form is often the basis for her work. The act of creating life holds some fascination for her.

So it’s not unsurprising that when she is diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31 the shock waves reverberate not only through her life but through her work as well. This documentary essentially functions as both a video journal of her fight against cancer, from her chemotherapy to her surgeries, as well as a career retrospective (and prospective as we see her working on her massive Terracotta Daughters project which will not be fully revealed to the public until 2030.

It isn’t easy to come to terms with one’s own mortality – we all know abstractly that our time is finite, but to actually be confronted with a potential end of our existence is another thing entirely. Rather than dwelling on it in a negative way, Nourry uses it as an inspiration for her creativity, experiencing a flurry of ideas that are as healing to her as the medicines and treatments her oncologists prescribe. Never underestimate the power of having something to do in one’s healing process.

There is a little bit of the avant garde to this; Nourry mounts a Go-Pro on her hospital gurney so that we can see her wheeled around from her room to the operating room and back again. The result comes off as a bit of a cross between an art film and a horror film set in a hospital. I suspect people who have recently spent time in a hospital will get that more than those that haven’t.

Much of Nourry’s work has a whimsical quality to it, even if it can be somewhat dark. For example she sets up a “sperm bar” in a food cart where people can come up and order the genetic traits of prospective offspring, although “The Procreative Dinner,” an installation set up in a five-star restaurant imagines the process of giving birth as a five-course meal which some may find a bit offensive, although it isn’t a bad thing to have one’s sensibilities challenged.

The movie, although short, gives us a sense of intimacy as Nourry shares some aspects of her life that most women would prefer to keep to themselves. She also involves her mentor, the late great French filmmaker Agnes Varda in the ceremonial cutting of her hair prior to chemotherapy (Nourry eventually shaves herself bald). Curiously, she chooses not to reveal as much about her creative process as she does about the removal of her breasts and the effects of chemotherapy upon her body. Then again, as mentioned earlier, for some artists their art is their life and certainly Nourry treats it as such.

This isn’t for everyone. Artists by their nature can sometimes be pretentious and we get a little bit of art therapy versus medicine here (you can guess which side Nourry is on) which for the likes of me tends to underestimate the positive effect of doctors and other medical practitioners. I don’t have anything against art therapy – I do believe that some of my own recovery is being facilitated by my insistence to continue writing my reviews even though my energy levels are fluctuating wildly as I recover from my own surgery – but I don’t agree that is the sole reason that we survive. The body may be a vessel for the mind, but without the body the mind can’t exist.

Those who have gone through cancer treatments of their own will likely find this a bit more compelling, as will those who are not only lovers of Nourry’s work but of art in general. Those who don’t find themselves in either category may well find this a bit dull, particularly if they have no interest in art or connection to cancer. Then again, not every movie is meant for everybody although those cinema buffs who are a bit more adventurous may find this of interest.

REASONS TO SEE: A fascinating and intimate portrait of an artist who is rethinking her outlook on life.
REASONS TO AVOID: Definitely not for everyone; some may find it a bit too “artsy.”
FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and a bit of profanity as well as adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nourry, born in France, now lives in Brooklyn where she is the artist-in-residence at the Invisible Dog Art Center since 2011.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews: Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Heal
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
#Female Pleasure

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