Body of Water gives us haunting fragments of a photographer’s anorexia

Lucy Brydon’s piecemeal, occasionally visionary first feature submerges us in the self-eradicating underworld of Siân Brooke’s long-term anorexia victim.

16 October 2020

By Catherine Wheatley

Body of Water (2020)
Sight and Sound

▶︎ Body of Water is in UK cinemas and on BFI Player.

The writer and director Lucy Brydon’s early shorts [see] show a fascination with the body and its fleshly limits. Skin (2013), Babe (2013) and The Space in Between (2014) inhabit the liminal spaces between adolescence and adulthood, gender and sex, while her 2015 novel Shanghai Passenger skirts the line between sexual freedom and self-abasement. Her first feature, Body of Water, places the body front and centre as it follows the inexorable self-eradication of anorexic photographer Stephanie (Siân Brooke).

Stephanie has been in and out of treatment for years, to the exhaustion and frustration of her mother Susan (Amanda Burton) and daughter Pearl (Fabienne Piolini-Castle). Beginning with Stephanie’s tentative attempts to overcome her illness and rebuild these relationships, Body of Water first presents as a variant on mainstream mental health melodramas such as When a Man Loves a Woman (1994), Perfect Body (1998) and, most recently, To the Bone (2017).

But Brydon avoids sentimentality, steering the film instead into more experimental territory. Rory Attwell’s uneasy, atonal score lends events an otherworldly, underwater feel, while cinematographer Darran Bragg punctuates the slender narrative with unflinching planimetric shots that box in Stephanie like a lab animal.

Fabienne Piolini-Castle as Pearl and Sîan Brooke as Stephanie in Body of Water

Body of Water lingers in the memory as a series of horrible, haunting images. The carved-up black-and-white images of body parts Stephanie posts on a pro-anorexia website, little red lovehearts flashing around them as her followers express their admiration. Stephanie grimly, determinedly masticating apple slices, skewered by the camera’s dead-on gaze. The painful spectacle of her gorging on trifle and stale nachos, stuffing her body as full as possible before it rebels against her (a sequence that reminded me of Jessica Hausner’s 2006 video installation Toast). Her Schiele-esque torso, at once compelling and repulsive.

Brydon’s film is less than the sum of its parts. Yet it shows flickers of a filmmaker with real vision, as well as offering a resolutely unglamorous, unredeemable depiction of the horrors that anorexia visits on its victims.

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