– In this compassionate debut feature by the Czech director, the human body can be a tool, or an obstacle
Inspired by the unique story of Andrea Absolonová, a Czech high-diving champion turned porn star, Natálie Císařovská’s debut feature, Her Body [+see also:
interview: Natálie Císařovská
film profile], shows a woman who, after a life-altering accident, is ready to make her own choices even if the people around her struggle to understand them. The film played in the Critics’ Picks section at this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
Cineuropa: You openly state that Her Body was inspired by Andrea Absolonová’s story. Does that mean you also reached out to her family?
Natálie Císařovská: We decided to stay close to it, and yes, we had many conversations with her sister. The importance of sisterhood is crucial in the film — we weren’t as interested in love stories or relationships with men. It was all about these two strong female characters. Also, Andrea’s sister is a high diving coach, so she could share her expertise with the actors. Andrea’s family wasn’t trying to influence the script in any way — they were comfortable with the idea of us turning it into a film. We wanted to tell an empathetic, female-centred story, without trying to sensationalise this combination of sport, porn and personal tragedy. We were completely free.
It’s interesting that you mention sisterhood, because their relationship in the film isn’t exactly perfect.
My co-writer Aneta Honzková and I also have sisters, so I know how difficult this relationship can be. You love each other, but you are also competing all the time. It’s a very fragile balance.
The title of the film is very telling: in her case, her body really influences her entire life. It’s easy to forget about her personality.
Her body is front and centre, but it’s also because she doesn’t let herself think about her mind and her feelings. She keeps saying everything is fine, but I would like the audience to understand that it’s not just about her body. It’s also about her soul.
She keeps going, like a machine, because that’s how she was raised by her family and her coaches. Still, I would like people to start thinking about her head too, even though this film is almost anti-psychological. There aren’t many scenes where she is explaining herself, where she shares how she feels, so we don’t really know that. Maybe she doesn’t know it either?
The first time we hear about Andrea’s life, it sounds crazy, but then it starts to make sense. In Her Body, she can use the very same tools in her other career that served her before as an athlete.
This is what we wanted to show. To some, it can feel controversial, but the point was to make this transition feel smooth. She has no doubts about it and it’s her own decision. Nobody forces her to do that. She wants to be a star and to be the best, and when she is working in some shop, it’s just too ordinary. That’s when she suffers the most and that’s when she feels ashamed. We didn’t want to create some fake drama and imply she did it because of some sexual trauma or financial troubles. To her, it’s not a big difference.
You talk about this desire to be a star and she actually says it in the film, but it’s one of the few things she says. She is not expressing her feelings that often.
We knew we were taking a risk: this way, she could come off as not that sympathetic. There was a worry that people wouldn’t like her or wouldn’t be interested in following her, but that’s one of the reasons why we chose Natália Germáni: she is so strong. You can’t help but be fascinated by her.
It’s infuriating when people wonder if a female character is “nice” or not. Is it a conversation we are still having these days?
We just premiered our film locally and some first reviews mentioned that. One person kept underlining that in real life, she was so pleasant. She used to do things like skydiving and had love affairs, so including all that would make her “more human” in the film and now, she just seems cold. But that’s the thing: I didn’t want her to be “nice.”
She is not cold — she is very focused. You can see it especially in the first part, when she doesn’t have the time to party or to have friends. When you want to be the best, when you are preparing for important competitions, you need to sacrifice some things. Later, she opens up a little, but you can feel her loneliness. She has success, but we are still not sure if it actually makes her happy.
Did it take you a while to figure out how to show her body? The camera doesn’t linger on it, you only show as much as you need.
I wanted to make it feel ordinary. It’s strange to say this word, because everyone wants their films to be special, but with cinematographer Klára Belicová, we wanted to be almost minimalist with it. Someone could even say that we are not focusing on her body here and it’s certainly not something we are obsessed with. So yes, we really thought about what to show.