Review by Jonathan Berk
De Humani Corporis Fabrica is a new documentary by directors Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor that showcases humans… inside and out. If you’ve ever wanted to take a deep dive into the human body while listening to random conversations of the people doing the procedures, then this is the documentary for you. However, if you prefer your viscera to be attached to a compelling narrative or at least a clear purpose, you’ll want to seek another source.
Paravel and Castain-Taylor collaborate out of the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory at Harvard University. It’s possible this poetic sensory experience is beyond me, but the experiential nature of this movie was not pleasant nor compelling. Never have I spent so much time watching a movie staring at the floor or ceiling, but the sympathy and pain I felt for several people while watching this was intense. I’ve never wanted to see a tube enter another man’s penis, but I can now safely check that off the bucket list. Some may be intrigued to watch the video of these medical procedures. If there was a clear focus or reason these images were presented in this film, then maybe it would have felt like a worthy use of one’s time, but all of it feels completely arbitrary. There is never a sense of order or purpose for what we see or hear.
The film thrusts the audience into unexplained visuals immediately as the camera follows an animal. It slowly becomes clear it is a dog and that the dog is being walked by someone. Moments later, the audience can infer it is a security guard and his dog, and a little further in the location is a hospital. We stay with this for a few moments until we see two nurses through a window taking care of a patient. They discuss their job and the various horrors of working in the ICU. The film moves to a series of other people, doctors, and tons of medical procedures with little to no explanation of what is on screen. Sometimes you hear people having conversations, like a moment when two doctors get into an argument after one drops a piece of equipment needed for an in-process surgery. Other times, there is no clarity to the audio. It’s a chaotic visual symphony that can potentially repulse those not into voyeuristic medical procedures.
De Humani Corporis Fabrica isn’t a documentary for everyone. There is poetry to the visuals, but there isn’t much else there for someone who isn’t inherently into the content. I went through intervals of disinterest mixed with feeling like I could be sick at any moment. It’s not necessarily bad, but there was nothing to pull me in.
De Humani Corporis Fabrica opens in theaters on April 14.