Tallinn 2023 Review: BODY ODYSSEY, Bodybuilding Obsession on the Edge of Psychological Unraveling
Jacqueline “Jay” Fuchs and Julian Sands star; director Grazia Tricarico boldly navigates the blurred lines of satire and horror in the story of female bodybuilding.
Last year, directors Anna Nemes and László Csuja delved into female bodybuilding and its demanding rituals in Gentle. Building on this concept, first-time director Grazia Tricarico ambitiously expands upon it in Body Odyssey. Here, the quest for physical perfection escalates into an introspective journey of psychological unraveling.
Body Odyssey focuses on the life of 45-year-old bodybuilder Mona, portrayed with remarkable intensity and dedication by Jacqueline “Jay” Fuchs. Mona is driven by an unyielding pursuit of an ideal that challenges conventional societal norms. Her coach, played by the late Julian Sands, serves as a devoted assistant in her rigorous regimen of muscle sculpting and toning, attending meticulously to her needs, even to the extent of orchestrating her intimate encounters with an elderly dentist.
As Mona gears up for the Miss Body Universe competition, her stringent training regimen begins to take a peculiar toll on her psyche. Despite her lack of interest in the elderly dentist, she yearns to be desired by the young and attractive, leading to a strange liaison with a blonde young man, Nic (Adam Misik). This relationship marks the start of Mona's descent into a surreal fantasy, punctuated by a hallucinatory encounter with Nic's parents, culminating in a climactic moment.
The boiling point is not just between Mona and those around her, but also an internal struggle. As Mona navigates the demanding physical standards and sacrifices required for her competition, she begins to lose sight of her own objectives and agency.
This high-pressure scenario culminates in an unusual episode where her body seems to develop its own consciousness and volition. Mona finds herself acting upon primal instincts, despite the eloquent philosophical reasoning articulated by an inner voice.
Director Grazia Tricarico skillfully portrays Mona’s dichotomy, illustrating her as both the creator and the creation. Her body transforms into an independent entity, characterized by its own desires and acts of rebellion.
Whereas Nemes and Csuja adopted a documentary approach within the framework of realist drama, portraying the protagonist caught between her bodybuilding partner and lover, Tricarico ventures beyond the realm of documentary realism into a highly stylized psychological drama. Body Odyssey often embraces hyperbolic elements, oscillating between satire and horror. The film delves into the complex interplay of ideals, reality, and obsession, capturing the intensity of this struggle in a visually striking manner.
Body Odyssey delves into the more expressive realms of cinema. While it's possible to piece together a coherent plotline, the series of vignettes crafted by Tricarico are deliberately arranged.
Set predominantly in cavernous, dimly-lit environments, these scenes create a claustrophobic atmosphere, highlighting the paradox of Mona’s agency: she voluntarily chose her career and continues to pursue it, yet her autonomy is constrained. This contrast is further illustrated in scenes where she enjoys a semblance of freedom swimming in a lake near her luxurious villa, despite being warned of potential toxic contamination in the water.
Tricarico utilizes a range of veiled and more apparent metaphors in Body Odyssey, which may not always be immediately discernible within the film's fragmentary narrative, at times demanding greater attention from the viewer. The editing includes exhibitionist and fetishistic scenes focusing on Mona’s body, which, while visually striking, do not necessarily advance the plot or character development.
The cinematography by Corrado Serri imbues the film with the aesthetics of a saturated glamour shoot. Serri demonstrates a flair for lighting, elevating even ordinary scenes to resemble art photography. In this visual arrangement, the buffed-up bodies are positioned more like sculptures within the composition, contributing to the film’s overall artistic impact.
Body Odyssey navigates the ambiguous territory between satire and horror, a fluidity that may not resonate with all audiences. Nonetheless, Grazia Tricarico’s film joins a growing list of works focused on the female experience within male-dominated and controlled industries.
Tricarico’s decision to depart from the confines of realism and embark on an introspective, imaginative journey into the protagonist's psyche showcases a distinct visual flair. This approach, however, also risks leading viewers down a potentially misleading interpretative path.
The film enjoyed its World Premiere at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.