SERENDIPITY – Review by Loren King

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If you don’t know French artist Prune Nourry — and I didn’t before watching her documentary If you don’t know French artist Prune Nourry — and I didn’t before watching her documentary Serendipity — this personal and profound film is a great introduction to a singular creative force and fascinating person.

Serendipity opens in a hospital, as sterile, impersonal and strange as a sci-fi film setting. We’ll spend a fair amount of time in hospitals, as we learn that Nourry, at just 31 years of age, has breast cancer and will soon undergo both chemotherapy and a mastectomy. But soon the film begins weaving segments from Nourry’s art — her massive sculptures of heads and feet; footage from her films; her “Terracotta Daughters” project in China; her “Holy Daughters” sculptures which were a commentary on the treatment of girls in India— and her life as an artist with her medical treatments. Coping with illness changes her, deepens her art and turns her film into a poetic meditation on the body, specifically the female body, and on mortality.

There’s a lovely sequence with Agnès Varda who shoots footage of Nourry and tenderly but playfully helps her cut her long, dark braid (in the closing credits, Nourry thanks the director, who died in March, and refers to Varda as her “sweet potato”). Nourry shaves her head before undergoing chemo (her cancer was diagnosed in 2016) perhaps to wield as much control as she could.

It’s impossible not to see Nourry’s head and body as a continuation of the sculptures she creates. The impressive project that closes the film, “Amazon,” features a woman’s enormous head, one half of which is dotted with giant, fiery acupuncture needles. As the film progresses, the artist’s life and art become more entwined, delicately and powerfully, until they are inseparable. — this personal and profound film is a great introduction to a singular creative force and fascinating person.

It’s impossible not to see Nourry’s head and body as a continuation of the sculptures she creates. The impressive project that closes the film, “Amazon,” features a woman’s enormous head, one half of which is dotted with giant, fiery acupuncture needles. As the film progresses, the artist’s life and art become more entwined, delicately and powerfully, until they are inseparable.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Serendipity is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for October 25, 2019

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Loren King

Loren King

Loren King's features and film reviews appear regularly in the Boston Globe, Boston Spirit magazine and the Provincetown Banner. She writes Scene Here, a localfilm column, in the Boston Sunday Globe. A member of the Boston Society of Film Critics since 2002, she served as its president for five years.