Credit: Grasshopper Film
by Ryan Akler-Bishop Feature Articles Featured Film Interviews

Re-Interrogating the Body: An Interview With Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

April 21, 2023

Anthropologist-filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s work dissolves the space between their camera and their subject. Previous films Leviathan and Caniba both treat their respective subjects — the marine landscapes of commercial fishing, the domestic world of an infamous cannibal — with startling intimacy, but the proximity of their filmmaking finds new extremes with De Humani Corporis Fabrica, an observational exploration of eight Parisian hospitals. This new film unfolds across subterranean infirmary tunnels, operating tables, and inside patients’ bodies; it was assembled over the course of six years, and presents an unflinching document of state-of-the-art surgical procedures, directing our gaze to otherwise unseeable sights of the human interior.

In the spirit of Stan Brakhage’s monumental autopsy documentation The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, De Humani probes the experience of looking at otherwise imperceptible depths of the human body. The film facilitates an encounter between spectators and the most disavowed corners of their biology. There’s no shortage of haunting corporeal images, visions of the body at its most frail and vulnerable — and yet the film asks us to reckon with what it means to be repelled by the sight of our own biology. At the crux of De Humani’s ambitious feat (both formally and thematically) is the groundwork for a new relationship with our own bodies, beyond fear and abjection. I spoke with Castaing-Taylor and Paravel about bodily anxiety and the political imperative of looking at the body in De Humani; Alice Diop’s reaction to the film; David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future; the work of Walter Benjamin; and plenty more.

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Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 16.