Love for life

HEALTH / Resilience, acceptance, and the intertwining of mind and body.
Director: Petra Seliškar
Distributor: LightDox
Country: Slovenia, Croatia, North Macedonia

We drink to health («Salute!» in Italian), wish one health when they sneeze («Gesundheit!» in German) and wish each other health in our greetings («Pozdravljeni!» in Slovenian). With the rising culture of self-care, we crave healthy food and appreciate healthy habits more than ever. As when we age, we face new illnesses daily; we often say that health is «the most important thing in life». But, of course, only when our health is in danger, we truly appreciate it. Body, a documentary by Slovene writer-director-producer Petra Seliškar that will have its World Premiere at the Sarajevo Film Festival and Macedonian premiere at MakeDox Creative Documentary Film Festival later this year, is about this moment in life. The moment the disease takes hold of the body, death gets frighteningly near. What makes this film very special is that it is full of love and optimism, so it is not at all a film about decay but about the importance of making something meaningful out of life.

Body Petra Seliškar
Body, a film by Petra Seliškar

Only in real life

«Some people collect badges – I collect rare diseases,» says the film’s protagonist Urška Ristić. A young piano player and mother of two lost her health most dramatically. Not one but two times, unexpectedly and almost terminally. The first time it happened was when she was a single mother of a little daughter. It was the daughter who actually found her as she collapsed due to severe poisoning. The condition was caused by undiagnosed herpes that started to dissolve her myelin cells. When, after weeks, she woke up from a coma, she didn’t remember anything. She didn’t know who she was and couldn’t move. Gradually she recovered completely and even liberated herself of steroid drugs that were causing her additional pain and changing the shape of her body. She fell in love and got pregnant again. It seemed it could only go «higher and higher,» «the sky is the limit,» she recalls. And then, her second daughter was eight months old, she collapsed again, foaming at the mouth. After she was wrongly treated for epilepsy for days, after diverse neurological examinations, her diagnosis was central nervous system vasculitis, an auto-immune brain disease that is, she comments, «only mentioned in Hollywood series». She wrote to the creators of the TV series, House (who often mentions this disease), suggesting they include a case of someone who actually has this disease and had herpes before.

A very special person

The film is based on the first-person narration. Urška Ristić is exceptionally open and sincere. With the director Petra Seliškar, they have been friends ever since high school, and we see Urška in the photos and videos that date all to 1995. We see her during her pregnancy, follow her through her medical visits and physiotherapy on family vacations. Some recordings are home videos by Urška and her friends. Some are made by the director. The majority, including the main interview between the director and the protagonist, is filmed by the cinematographer Brand Ferro who magnificently captured the sensibilities of special moments and contributed to the evolvement of the particular relationship between the protagonist and the viewer. Similarly outstanding is the music score (the composer is Vladimir Rakić). The introduction of the protagonist’s partner, the violin player Bojan Ristić through their joint playing of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne is sublime.

Body Petra Seliškar
Body, a film by Petra Seliškar

What are we doing here

The film starts with the protagonist and director remembering their high school times. Adolescence is the life period designated by the search for identity, for what makes one different from the rest of the world, special and unique, exploration of one’s particularity, their inner self. Urška and Petra both remember each other as different from other schoolmates, as standing out from the crowd: very special persons, someone with whom you could talk about meaningful things.

They sit by the water, a lake with a surface of a sinister metallic look. They are relaxed, and their dialogue is full of praise for the magic of the place. Yet, the feeling of the uncanny floats over the scene. At the very end of the film, the secret is revealed, and the testimony about the extraordinary struggle for life gets a new meaning. Petra Seliškar, the energetic, innovative and resourceful director of several feature documentaries managed to create a little masterpiece this time.

Body, of course, is a film about her admiration for her unfortunate high-school friend. It is a film about the love for life. It is all this, but it is also more than that. In a world where most people simply indulge in cherishing pure existence and mere appearances, this film is a precious and timely reminder that existence itself is not enough. It is a film about the need to make the best of it, the need to contribute to the people around us and the world to the best of our efforts.

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Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.

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