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The 70th Berlinale International Film Festival will be held from February 20 to March 1, 2020.
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Serendipity: Prune Nourry's revealing look at illness and art premiered at Berlinale

 

(© Léa Crespi/Pasco/Prune Nourry Studio) 

By LINDSAY R. BELLINGER

 

New York-based French artist Prune Nourry reveals a great deal in her documentary feature debut Serendipity, which made its world premiere in the Panorama Dokumente section of Berlinale 2019. She does not shy away from exposing herself to the camera, her battle with breast cancer in and out of the hospital. For those familiar with her artwork and performance art, this will not be much of a shock but for those new to her work, one might be taken aback a bit. The POV shot while she's in her hospital in Paris show's her perspective as the doctor is inserting an ultrasound probe. It both reminded me of the ridiculous POV film Hardcore Henry and took me back to when I was last visiting my own gynocologist. My thoughts also turned to the on-going battle that some states in the US and other countries I'm sure, have with women being forced to have a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. The state butting their heads into a purely private matter such as a woman and her body (men and their bodies too of course) makes me angry ever time I think about it, so in this respect, watching Nourry take the reigns over her body and its agency and choosing to share that with audiences deserves a big applause. Provocative might be one way to describe Nourry's work but not just that. It opens up a dialogue, not just a political or sociological one about women and their place in the world but about men, women and animals alike. 

 
Nourry's introspective film looks into her dealing with her mortality and the effect it has on her and her work; it's quite revealing and not as heavy as one might expect from a documentary dealing with cancer. The pieced together archival footage from her previous projects and home videos, some shot by friend and collaborator Agnes Varda in her home, makes for an extensive overview of the artist's work, which spans three continents within the film. Nourry graduated with a degree focusing on sculpting wood but since receiving her degree from Ecole Boulle in Paris she has spanned out in every which way. Three of her most notable works, Terracotta Daughters, The Amazon and Holy Daughters involve using terracotta, cement and bronze. The last piece shown in the film, The Amazon, is made from cement and has an endless amount of incense sticks which are made to look like acupuncture. This piece was unveiled in at the Standard Highline in New York in the summer of 2018.
 
Some of the more comical, lighter aspects of Nourry's work that is on display are the Sperm Bank, when she and her team set up a food cart on the streets of NYC. Charging just two bucks, people were allowed to buy "sperm" for consumption after choosing which traits they would ideally want in a prospective sperm donor. The Procreative Dinner, which was Nourry's 2009 performance project invited guests to consume a meal based off of what traits they would envision their perfect child to have, all the while encouraging debate about IVF and gene manipulation. The main course was a baby molded out of soft cheese, and the dessert was an edible flan modeled after the breast and nipple of Nourry herself. I just regret having missed out on living these experiences myself. Performance art like this are some of the reasons that make me miss living in New York, after a ten year absence. 
 
One such honor that Nourry includes in her work, but does not highlight as being such a big deal even though it really is, is her retrospective exhibition at the Guimet Museum in Paris. In fact, at that time, she was the only living artist who was bestowed with such an honor at the Guimet Museum. It wasn't until I researched a bit more about Nourry's work and legacy that I came upon this fact. The camerawork and cinematography delicately captures the sheer breadth of her work and the sound design by Paul Carlin and Max Bygraves adds simple touches to the story without oversentimentalizing it too much. For Nourry, her art is personal, politicial, sociological and all-encompassing.
 
One of the lines that I particularly liked towards the end of the film is Nourry stating that for her the essentials in life, although it might sound cheesy are, "health, love...and art." Through this telling documentary and reflective art film one really gets a sense that these three elements are the essence of her existence and it's a motivational message for artists, whether you call yourself one or not, to keep on making art and taking care of yourself, your body, your message. This film should be particularly moving for survivors of breast cancer and their circle of friends and family. My hope is that men will also give this film a chance, as it's so much more than just a story about a woman surviving breast cancer and reflecting on her artwork. The heart and curiosity for other cultures is alive and well in all of us, and witnessing Nourry and her artwork reminds us of that. 
 
Today is a special day for New York audiences because MOMA will be showing the first public screening of Nourry's Serendipity, following its Berlinale premiere. I had a chance to chat with the artist before her MOMA screening, and my interview with be up shortly. It was an enchanting conversation with an open and charming artist who is not only passionate about life, art, love, and health but also about catharsis and the healing process that goes along with it. 

 

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Berlin 2019: The dailies from the Berlin Film Festival brought to you by our team of festival ambassadors. Vanessa McMahon, Alex Deleon, Laurie Gordon, Lindsay Bellinger and Bruno Chatelin...
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